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CORNELL 

UNIVERSITY 

LIBRARY 




THE 

CHARLES WILLIAM WASON 

COLLECTION ON CHINA 

AND THE CHINESE 

SAOE 



Cornell University Library 
DS 721.S64 1900 

Chinese characten^^^^^^^ 




DATE DUE 



1 U llrTT]^ 




"^'^ t m* ' 3 1 99? 



BEE:r:pJ^4=*=- 







CAVLORO 



^RINTCO in U.S. 



'■|| 




The original of this book is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924023505591 



CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 




Native Children in Courtyard 



Turtle Monument. 



Chinese Characteristics 



Arthur H: Smith 

• AUTHOR OF 

' Village Life in China," " China in Convulsion," etc. 



Enlarged and Revised Edition ivith 
Marginal and New Illustrations 



TENTH THOUSAND 



Edinburgh and London 

OUphant, Anderson & Ferrier 



Cc?ec<ovO ' \ 



TWELVE NOTABLE BOOKS ON CHINA 

China In Convulsion ; The Origin ; Tlie Outbreak ; The Climax ; 
The Aftermath. A survey of the cause and events of the recent 
uprising. By Arthur H. Smith, author of " Chinese Characteristics," 
"Village Life in China," &c. In 2 Volumes, demy 8vo, cloth extra, 
with numerous Illustrations, Maps and Charts v 21s. 

Chinese Characteristics. By the Rev. Arthur H. Smith, D.D. 
Tenth Thousand, Revised, with additional Illustrations. Demy 
8vo js. 6d. 

The Lore of Cathay ; or, The Intellect of China. In Five Parts. 
Arts and Sciences, Literature, Philosophy and Religion, Education. 
History. By Rev. W. A. P. Martin, D.D., LL.D., author of " Cycle 
of Cathay," &c. Demy 8vo, cloth extra, with Illustrations 10s. 6d. 

A Cycle oif Cathay : or, China, South and North. With Personal 
Reminiscences. By the Rev. W. A. P. Martin, D.D., LL.D., 
Imperial Tung-wen College, Pekin. With Map and numerous 
Illustrations. Demy 8vo, art canvas 7s. 6d. 

Fire and Sword in Shansi ; The Story of the Massacre of Foreigners 
and Chinese Christians. By E. H. Edwards, M.B., CM., Edin., over 
twenty years a Medical Missionary in China. With Introductory Note 
by Alexander MacLaren, D.D., Litt.D., Manchester. Large crown 
8vo, handsome binding, with over 40 Illustrations, Map, &c. 6s. 

The Siege in Pekin. China against the World. By an Eye-witness, 
W. A. P. Martin, D.D., LL.D., President of the Chinese Imperial 
University, author of " A Cycle of Cathay. " Crown 8vo, cloth extra, 
with Portrait of the author 3s. gj. 

China's Only Hope. An Appeal by her greatest Viceroy, Chang 
Chih Tung, Viceroy of Liang-Hu, with Endorsement by the present 
Emperor. Translated by the Rev. S. I. Woodbridge. Introduction 
by the Rev. Griffith John, D.D. Crown 8vo, cloth extra, with 
Portrait of author 3s_ gj. 

Village Life in China. A Study in Sociology. By Arthur H. Smith', 
D.D., author of "Chinese Characteristics." Tenth Thousand. Demy 
8vo, art binding, with 9 full-page Illustrations |s. 6d. 

Mission Methods in Manchuria. By John Ross, D.D., Mission- 
ary of the United Free Church, Moukden, Manchuria. Crown 8vo, 
cloth extra, with Map and Illustrations 3s. 6d. 

East of the Barrier: or. Side Lights on the Manchurian Mission! 
By J. Miller Graham, Missionary of the United Free Church of Scot- 
land, Moukden, Manchuria. Crown Svo, with Illustrations and 
M*P 3s. 6d. 

The City of Springs; or. Mission Work in Chin-Chew. By Annie 
N. Duncan. With Prefatory Note by Dr Barbour. Small 4to, with 
numerous Illustrations, and Ornamental Boards net is. 

Mission Problems and Mission Methods in South China. 
By Dr J. Campbell Gibson of Swatow. Large crown Svo, cloth 
extra, with coloured Map, Diagram, and 16 full-page Illustrations 
Second Edition g^' 

CdlrvburgK and Londorv 
OLIPHANT, ANDERSON & FERRIER. 

A, it'^GOd^ ^ 



CONTENTS. 



CHAPTER PACE 

List of Illustrations 7 \ 

Introduction 9-, 

^»** I. Face i6-^ 

II. Economy 19 

III. Industry 27 

^ IV. Politeness 35 

V. The Disregard of Time 41 

VI. The Disregard of Accuracy 48 

Vil. The Talent for Misunderstanding 58 

VIII. The Talent for Indirection 65 

IX. Flexible Inflexibility 74 

X. Intellectual Turbidity 82 

^.J The Absence of Nerves 90 

_,^,/'Ml. Contempt for Foreigners 98 

j^XIII. The Absence of« Public Spirit 107 

,^"»XIV. Conservatism 115 

-Indifference to Comfort and Convenience 125 

CVI^ Physical Vitality 144 

XVII. Patience and Perseverance 152 




6 CONTENTS 

CHAPTER TktX 

fivill. Content and Cheerfulness 162 

— 'XIX. Filial Piety 171 

^X. Benevolence 186 

QfXI. The Absence of Sympathy 194 

XXIIi Social Typhoons 217 

XXIII. Mutual Responsibility and Respect for Law . . . 226 

XXIV. Mutual Suspicion 242 

QcXV. The Absence of Sincerity 266 

XXVI. Polytheism, Pantheism, Atheism 287 

XXVII. The Real Condition of China and Her Present 

Needs 314 

Glossary 331 



Index. 



333 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.* 



Tung-Chou Pagoda, near Peking 

A Memorial Arch 

Native Children in Courtyard ' 

Turtle Monument 

PACIHG PAGE 

A Chinese Kitchen, showing Method of Preparing Food ... 19 

Passenger Boat on the Pei Ho, North China 30 

Carpenters Sawing Large Timber 44 

Chinese Performers in Stage Dress 54 

A Peking Cart 60 

Chinese Card-players 70 

The Empress Dowager of China 98 

A Chinese Barber 118 

Engine Works and Yard at Hanyang 122 

A Middle-Class Family in Winter Dress 127 

Interior of a Mohammedan Mosque 171 

Native Women Sewing and Weaving Lace 200 

Four Generations 217 

A Portion of the Great Chinese Wall 24a 

A Chinese Boys' School (Christian) 251 

The Temple of Heaven, Peking 287 

A Chinese Idol 300 

Camel's-back Bridge, on the Grounds of the Emperor's 
Summer Palace 31S 

* For the use of original photographs, from which engravings have been made 
and here published for the first time, the author and publishers desire to acknowl- 
edge their indebtedness to Miss J. G. Evans of Tung-Chou, for frontispiece and 
illustrations facing pages 30, 44, 118, 171, 217, 242 and 300; and to the Rev. G. S. 
Hays of Chefoo, for illustrations facing pages ig, 70, 200, and 251. 



Within the Four Seas all are brethren. 

Confucian Analects, XII., v. ^. 

The scientific study of Man is the most difficult of all branches 
of knowledge. 

O. W. Holmes. 

We are firm believers in the maxim that for all right judgment 

of any man or thing it is useful — ^nay, essential — to see his 

good qualities before pronouncing on his bad. 

Carlyle. 




A WITNESS when put upon the stand is expected to tell 
~"1 -^^ 'theUnUh,Jhe_jyhalg_lruli^3nd„nptWn^^ 

Many witnesses concerning the Chinese have told the truth, 
but perhaps few of them have succeeded in telling nothing 
but the truth, and no one of them has ever told the whole 
truth. No single individual, whatever the extent of his knowl- 
edge, could by any possibility know the whole truth about 
the Chinese. The present volume of essays is therefore open 
to objection from three different points of view. 

First, it may be said that the attempt to convey to others 
an idea of the real characteristics of the Chinese is vaiiu 
Mr. George Wingrove Cooke, the China correspondent of the 
London Itmes in 1857-58, enjoyed as good an opportunity 
of seeing the Chinese under varied circiunstances, and through 
the eyes of those well quaUfied to help him to a just under- 
standing of the people, as any writer on China up to that 
time. In the preface to his published letters, Mr. Cooke 

9 



10 INTRODUCTION 

apologises as follows for his failure to describe the Chinese 
character: " I have, in these letters, introduced no elaborate 
essay upon Chinese character. It is a great omission. No 
theme could be more tempting, no subject could afford wider 
scope for ingenious hypothesis, profound generalisation, and 
triumphant dogmatism. Every small critic will probably 
utterly despise me for not having made something out of 
such opportunities. The truth is, that I have written several 
very fine characters for the whole Chinese race, but having 
the misfortune to have the people under my eye at the same 
time with my essay, they were always saying something or 
doing something which rubbed so rudely against my hypothe- 
sis, that in the interest of truth I burnt several successive 
letters. I may add that I have often talked over this matter 
with the most eminent and candid sinologues, and have 
always found them ready to agree with me as to the imgos; 
sibility of a^nnrpptinn of. ChinpsP-^haracter^as a whole. 
These difficulties, however, occur only .to those who know the 
Chinese practically ; a smart writer, entirely ignorant of the 
subject, might readily strike off a brilliant and antithetical 
analysis, which should leave nothing to be desired but truth. 
Some day, perhaps, we may acquire the necessary knowledge 
to give to each of the glaring inconsistencies of a Chinaman's 
mind its proper weight and influence in the general mass. At 
present, I, at least, must be content to avoid strict definitions, 
and to describe a Chinaman* by his most prominent qualities." 
Within the past thirty years, the Chinese has made himself 
a factor in the affairs of many lands. He is seen to be irre- 

* It is a matter of surprise, and even more of regret, that this barba- 
rous compound seems to have rooted itself in the English language, to the 
exclusion of the proper word Chinese. We do not know of a foreign 
periodical in China in which natives of that country are not constantly 
called " Chinamen, " nor of a single writer in the Empire who consistently 
avoids the use of the term. 



INTRODUCTION ii 

pressible ; is felt to be incomprehensible. He cannot, indeed, 
be rightly understood in any country but China, yet the im- 
pression still prevails that he is a bundle of contradictions who 
cannot be understood at all. But after all there is no ap- 
parent reason, now that several hundred years of our ac- 
quaintance with China have elapsed, why what is actually 
known of its people should not be co-ordinated, as well as 
any other combination of complex phenomena. 

A more serious objection to this particular volume is that 
the author has no adequate qualifications for writing it. The 
circumstance that a EejaoaJiaiJ^siiaiUsKalJiJafflt^M 
Qiinj. is no more a guarantee that he is competent to write 
of the characteristics of the Chinese, than the fact that another 
man has for twenty-two years been buried in a silver mine is 
a proof that he is a fit person to compose a treatise on metal- 
lurgy, or on bi-metallism. China is a vast whole, and one 
who ^="i rifV'" """" vjgi'i-pf^ TT-"-fl,,thainiii.l"'^'^ 'tff F'"^''^'"Pt'*''''j ^'^^ 
who has lived in b ut two of them^ is certainly not entitled to 
generalise for the whole Jimpire. These _papers were origi- 
nally- prepar€d-for-^he-2?WTAH?A?«a~Z'a«^'i\4w.f-©f-Siaaghai, 
with no reference to any wider circulation. Some of the 
topics treated excited, however, so much interest, not only in 
China, but also in Great Britain, in the United States, and in 
Canada, that the author was asked to reproduce the articles 
in a permanent form.* 

A third objection, which will be offered by some, is that 
parts of the ^aegs-hprp presented, especially tJicsfi-wlHeh- deal 
j?i± the moralcharacter-oiJhe Chinese, are, misleading^and 
unjust. 

It should be remembered, however, that jmpre^ons_are 
pot like statistJc&whidi-jnajLJae-Gorieeted to-a,£iactLOD. They 

* "Chinese Characteristics" was published in Shanghai in 1890; after 
being widely circulated throughout China and the East, the edition was 
exhausted more than two years ago. 



12 INTRODUCTION 

rather resemble photographic negatives, no two of which may 
be alike, yet each of them may present truthfully something 
not observable in any of the rest. The plates on which the 
photographs are taken diiler ; so do the lenses, and the develop- 
ers, and the resulting views differ too. 

Many old residents of China, whose knowledge of the 
country is very much greater than that of the writer, have ex- 
pressed themselves as in substantial agreement with his opin- 
ions, while others, whose judgment is entitled to equal respect, 
think that a somewhat lighter colouring in certain parts would 
increase the fideUty of the too "monochromatic" pi cttire. 
With this undoubtedly just criticism in mind, the work has 
been revised and amended throughout. While the exigencies 
of republication at this time have rendered convenient the 
omission of one-third of the characteristics originally dis- 
cussed, those that remain contain nevertheless the most im- 
portant portions of the whole, and the chapter on Content and 
Cheerfulness is altogether new. 

There can be no vahd excuse for withholding commendation 
from the Chinese for any one of »-1ip jngpy jinnH gn-aHtipn ■gTyj^ji^ 
theyjgossess^and-.exhibit. At the same time, there is a danger 
of yielding to h priori considerations, and giving the .Chinese- 
ri-pHif fr>r g tii gher practical nu yality than they can justly_ claim 
— an evil not less serious than indiscriminate condemnation. 
ItJsjelated^if^Tia£kCTa^thatJi&was.Qnce.asked.hQ^ it hap- 
pfinfiiJhat the good ,p.eople^in.his novek were always stupid^ 
and th ^ad people clever. To this the great satirist replied 
that he had no brains above his eyes. There is a wood-cut 
representing an oak tree, in the outlines of which the observer 
is invited to detect a profile of Napoleon on the island of 
St. Helena, standing with bowed head and folded arms. Pro- 
tracted contemplation frequently fails to discover any such 
profile, and it would seem that there must be some mistake, 
but when once it is clearly pointed out, it is impossible to look 



INTRODUCTION 13 

^t the picture and not see the Napoleon too. In like manner, 
maBy_thi Ti g8 a r-e -to,„be^,segn Jn_Qiina which do not at first 
appear, and many of them once seen are never forgo tten. 

While it has been impossible to introduce a qualifying clause 
into every sentence which is general in its form, the reader is 
expressly warned that these papers a re not intended tp-be 
genexaUsations-for a whole Empire^ hor"yer"Eompr-ehensive 
aj2stra£ts_ofj^at_foreigaer&-haVe~6bseiTea'"^iidr«x^^ 
What they are intended to be is merely a notation o^ he jm- 
P'"fflsiom W^''''b ^i*! bnan made, upon pne observer, by a few 
ou|^of many " Chinese Characteristics." They are not meant 
as a portrait of the Chinese people, but rather as mere outline 
sketches in charcoal of some features of the Chinese people, as 
they have been seen by that one observer. Taken together, 
they constitute only a single ray, of which an indefinite number 
are required to form a complete beam of white hght. They 
may also be considered as studies in induction, in which many 
particulars taken from the experience not of the writer only, 
but of various other individuals at various times, are grouped. 
It is for this reason that the subject has been so largely treated 
by exemplification. 

Mr. Meadows, the most philosophical of the many writers 
on China and the Chinese, expressed the opinion that the 
best way to convey to the mind of another person a correct 
idea of the genius of a foreign people would be to hand him 
for perusal a collection of notes, formed by carefully recording 
great numbers of incidents which had attracted one's attention, 
particularly those that seemed at all extraordinary, together 
with the explanation of the extraordinary parts as given by 
natives of the country. 

From a sufficient number of such incidents a general prin- 
ciple is inferred. The inferences may be doubted or denied, 
but such particulars as are cited cannot, for that reason alone, 
be set aside, being so far as they go truthful, and they must 



14 INTRODUCTION 

ultimately be reckoned with in any theory of the Chinese 
character. 

The difficulty of comparing Chinese with Anglo-Saxons will 
be most strongly felt by those who have attempted it. To 
such it will soon_ become evident that many Jhingi which 
seem""^'^ha»cteristic "_ of the_ Chinese are merely Oriental 
traits ; but to what extent this is true, each reader in the light 
of his own experience must judge for himself. 

It has been said that in the present stage of our intercourse 
with Chinese there are three ways in which we can come to 
some knowledge of their social hfe — by the study of their 
novels, their ballads, and their plays. Each of these sources 
of information doubtless has its worth, but there is likewise 
a fourth, more valuable than all of them combined, a source 
not open to every one who writes on China and the Chinese. 
It is the,.study_of_8ieJaniUyJife-Q£jJiR ChinRse JaJtheJE.. own 

homes As the topogr aphy^of a district can bejnuch better 

understood in the country than in the c ity, so it is w ith the 
obaia^ristiGS^ iEe ^eopeT A foreigner may Uve in a Chi- 
nese city for a decade, and not gain as much knowledge of 
the interior life of the people as he can acquire by living twelve 
months in a Chinese village. Next to the Family we must 
regard theVillage as Jhe unit ofCKmese social Ufe, and itTS 
therefore from, the standpoint of .a Chinese viUage that these 
papsrs have been written. They are of purpose not inten ded 
to.repres£nt thp point nf view-oi. a missionary, but that of an 
observer not consciously prejudiced, who simply reports what 
he sees. For this reason no. reference is made to- any charac- 
tgristicsLof-theXhinese as they may,be modified by- Christiaa- 
^. It is not assumed that the Chinese need Christianity at 
all, but if it appears that there are grave defects in their char- 
acter, it is a fair question how those defects may be remedied. 

The " Chinese question," as already remarked, is now far 
more than a national one. It is international. There is rea- 



INTRODUCTION 15 

son to think that in the twentieth century it will be an even 
more pressing question than at present. The p roblem o f the 
rneansbj; which so vas t a part of the humaiL jac&jnay.bfi im- 
2lQ2Je4 cannot be without interest to any one who wishes 
well to mankind. If the conclusions to which we may find 
ourselves led are correct, they will be supported by a line of 
argument heretofore too much neglected. IfJlies&-e©»6lasiQns 
arejwFeng^cthjey^l, however supported, falLoiJiieBiselres: — 
It is many years since Lord Elgin's reply to an address 
from the merchants of Shanghai, but his words are true and 
pertinent to-day. "When the barriers which prevent free 
access to the interior of the country shall have been removed, 

Christian civilisatiotL-Of .t>iP-3KeKt will find itsplf fa re. tn fare 

jwt^wifeJsach^'^^'sm, but with an ancient civilisationinjnany 
respe cts effete a nd irnperfect, but in others jjot without claims 
to our sympathy and respjfit,. In the rivalry which will then 
ensue, Christian civilisatio n_will have to win its way among a 
scepticaLand, ingenious people, by making it manifest that a 
fgith which reaches to heaven furnishes better guarantees for 
pub lic an d jpriyate mor dity than one jdijclijQesJJQt -rise 
above the earth." 




CHAPTER I. 



FACE. 



AT first sight nothing can be more irrational than to call 
Xi. that which is shared with the whole human race a " char- 
acteristic " of the Chinese. But the word " face " d oes not in 
China signify simply the front part of the head, but iaJiterally- 
a-ce mpound no un o f m u l t i t t i de, with more meanings than we 
shall be able to describe, or perhaps to comprehend. 

In order to understand, however imperfectly, what is meant 
by " face," we must take account of the fact that as a race the 

riimpsp havp a t!trnnfi;)y t\j-amatir. ir,<itmrt. The theatre may 

almost be said to be the only national amusement, and the 
Chinese have for theatricals a passion like that of the English- 
man for athletics, or the Spaniard for bull-fights. Upogjfgy 
slight provocation,, any Chinese regards himself jnJ^eU^t of 
an actor in a drama. He_dirows himsel f into t hea&ical_atti- 
tudes, performs the salaam, falls upon his knees, prostrates him- 
self and strikes his head upon the earth, under circumstances 
which to an Occidental seem to make such actions super- 
fluous, not to say ridiculous. A CJhinese Jthinks iLtheatQcal 
tem^. '^Jhen roused in self-defence he addresses two or 
three persons as if they were a multitude. He exclaims : " I 
say this in the presence of You, and You, and You, who are all 
here present." If his troubles are adjusted he speaks of him- 
self as having " got off the stage " with credit, and if they are 
not adjusted he finds no way to " retire from the stage." All 
this, be it clearly understood, hasjLQthing_loL,dQjritLrealities. 

i6 



FACE 



17 



The q uestion is never of facts, but always of form . If a fine ^ 
speech has been deHvered at the proper time and in the proper 
way, the requirement of the play is met. We are not to go 
behind the scenes, for that would spoil all the plays in the , 

world. Prapa jy to exe cut£-act8-liT^P thesp in all tVie rntnplfv 

<r^lat£i ^of life, is to hay^ JHasfi^' TtLfail of them, to i^oi e 

t^^'^-'iQj!;^ t'^^q'"^^4 i" the peiAarmannp of 1; |ipjTij_t1iis i> tn 

^log ^Jacg^ Once rightly apprehended, " face " will be found 
to be in itself a key to the combination lock of many of the 
most important characteristics of the Chinese. 

It should be added that the princiglesjvhich regulate "Jace" 
and its attainment are often wholly beyond the intellectual 
apprehensi on of the^cqidgatal. who is constantly forgetting 
the JheagicaJLslementf-a«A^aB4efMtg-i»fHTito 
regi^g.^i_fact. To him it often seems that Chinese "face" 
is not unlike the South Sea Island taboo, a force of undeniable] 
potency, but capricious, and not reducible to rule^ deserving! 
only to be abolished and replaced by common sense. At this 
point Chinese and Occidentals must agree to disagree, for they 
can never be brought to view the same things in the same 
light. In the adjustment„of.J;be-iin<'.f;ssfLnf. quarrels which 
distract every hamlet s it i s necessary for the "peace-talkers'' 
^otake as careful account of ..tJiS. balance s^JL^XsJl as^ijro- 
.pean sfatesmen'^bnce did of the balance of power. The object 
in such cases is not the e xecution of even-handed justice, 
which, even if theoretically desirable, seldom occurs to an 
•Oriental as a possibility, but suclLJai.anaJlgginfiftt.as.S?iIl dis- 
jj;;tolte.Jo__a.ll concerned J^ face '' in due proportions. The 
same principle often obtains in the settlement of lawsuits, a 
very large percentage of which end in what may be called a 
drawn game. 

To offcra person aJjand^Qme- present is to " give him-faca,!' 
But if theg^t^be,^2m.axLiQdiB£lMaL it should be accepted xm\y 
in part, buTshould seldom or never be altogether refused. A 



tS CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

few examples of the thirst for keeping face will suffice for illus- 
tration. To Jie_aGGused_of a iaultjs. tQ_ "iosfiJace,-" and die 
fact jjjjjsLil&jienied, no matter what the evidence, in order 
ta,s.aye,fa6e. A tennis-ball is missed, and it is more than sus- 
pected that a coolie picked it up. He indignantly denies it, 
but goes to the spot where the ball disappeared, and soori 
finds it lying there (dropped out of his sleeve), remarkingjj 
" Here is your ' lost ' ball." The waiting-woman who secreted 
the penknife of a guest in her master's house afterwards dis- 
covers it under the table-cloth, and ostentatiously produces it. 
In each case "face" is saved. The servant who has care- 
lessly-lost an article which he knows he must replace or forfeit 
an Equivalent from his wages, remarks loftily, as he takes his 
dismissal, " The money for that silver spoon I do not want," 
and thus his " face " is intact. A man has a debt owing to 
him which he knows that he shall not collect ; but going to 
the debtor, he raises a terrible distiurbance, by which means 
he shows that he knows what ought to be done. He does 
not get the money, but he saves his " face," and thus secures 
hiihsfelf 'froin imposition in the future. A servant neglects or 
refuses to perform some duty. Ascertaining that his master 
intends to turn him off, he repeats his former oflEence, dismisses 
himself, and saves his " face." 

To j ave qn elSLfel£fi..jjid jQSg„Qae!s-Jif&^ould not seem to 
us very attractive, but we have heard of a Chinese District 
Magistrate who, as a special favour, was allowed to be be- 
headed in his robes of office in order to save his face I 



CHAPTER II. 

ECONOMY. 

THE word "economy" signifies the rule by which the house 
should be ordered, especially with reference to the rela- 
tion between expenditure and income. Economy, as we 
understand the term, may be displayed in three several ways : 
by Jijnitipg'llreTmHibeE-ot.^Kaaits, by preventing waste, and by 
the adjustment of f ore^_jn,,.aich.-ar-HiaHger'a5''to-«iafce- aiittle 
represent a £reat deal. In each of these ways the ^li^gse 
are pre-emirien iJyecongipjfJ)! 

One of the first things which impress the traveller in China 
is the extremely aimple_^iet^of the people. The vast bulk of 
the population seems to depend upon a few articles, such as 
rice,_ beans in various preparations, n;i^lgti garden_ y.egetg.bles, 
and fish. These, with a few other things, form the staple of 
countless millions, supplemented it may be on the feast-days, 
or other special occasions, with a bit of meat. 

Now that so much attention is given in Western lands to 
the contrivance of ways in which to furnish nourishing food 
to the very poor, at a minimum cost, it is not without interest 
to learn the undoubted fact that, in ordinary years, itj§„,in 

quantit y at a cost for each adult of_ nat tnnrp t^g^ tW" f^f^nts a. 
day . Even in fam ine times, thoussmis-^jf^ieiSQnaJiaYebieen 
kept alive for mon Ss'on an allowance of not more than a 
This implies the general existence in 
19 




CfiaLa ad a half a d ay. 



30 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

China of a high_degree of skill in the preparation_of^food. 
Poor and coarse as their food~ort«i"Tsrinfiip3"and even re- 
pulsive as it not infrequently seems to the foreigner, it is im- 
possible not to recognise the fact that, in the cooking and 
serving of what they have, the Chinese are past-masters of the 
culinary art. In this particular, Mr. Wingrove Cooke ranked 
them below the French, and above the English (and he might 
have added the Americans). Whether they are really below 
any one of these nationalities we are by no means so certain 
as Mr. Cooke may have been, but their superiority to some 
of them is beyond dispute. In the few simple articles which 
we have mentioned, it is evident that even from the point of 
view of the scientific physiologist, the Chinese have made a 
wise choice of their staple foods. The thOToughness_pfjieir 
mode of preparing food , and the great varietY _in_which these 
(ew:xonstitJients^j.re constantly presented, are knoAvn to all 
who have paid the least attention to Chinese cookery. 

Another fact of extreme significance does not force itself 
upon our notice, but can easily be verified. There is very 
little waste JaJhe pre paration of Chine s_e_fQQd. and everything 
is made to do as much duty as possible. What there is left 
after an ordinary Chinese family have finished one of their 
meals would represent but a fraction of the net cost of the 
food. In illustration of this general fact, it is only necessary 
to glance at the physical condition of the Chinese dog or cat. 
On the leavings of human beings it is the iinhappy Tiincfion 
of_Jhese anhn^s to " live," and their .lives, are uSfonmiy'pro- 
tracted at " ajooi^ dying rate." The populations of new 
countries are proverbially wasteful, and we have not the least 
doubt that it would be possible to support sixty millions of 
Asiatics in comparative luxury with the materials daily wasted 
in a land like the United States, where a living is easily to 
be had. But we should like to see how many human beings 
could be fattened from what there is left after as many Chinese 



ECONOMY 21 

have " eaten to repletion," and the servants or children have 
all had their turn at the remains! Even the tea left in the 
GHB S-is poured back into the te apot to be heated" agaihr"' " ' 

It is a fact virhich cannot fail to force itself upon our notice 
at every turn, that the Chinese are not as a race gifted with 
that extreme fastidiousness in regard to food which is fre- 
quently developed in Western lands. All is fish that comes to 
their net, and there is very little which does not come there 
first or last. I n the northern p arts of China the horse, the 
rmile, the ox, and-tb.e.donkey axe in JiQaKersaLuse,..ajidiaJarge 
districts-tie camel i» made to dw futt duty. Doubtless it will 
appear to some of our readers that economy is carried too far, 
when we mention that it is the ggaeial practice„to eat.a//of 
thesejmima]s_as«SQQn„jaaJthfijL£Xfai^no 11^ the 

cause of death be an acddgllt,,Qld. age, or disease* This is 
done as a matter of course, and occasions no remark whatever, 
nor is the habit given up because the animal may chance to 
have died of some epidemic malady, such as the pleuro-pneu- 
monia in cattle. Such meat is not considered so wholesome 
as that of animals which have died of other diseases, and this 
truth is recognised in the lower scale of prices asked for it, 
but it is all sold, and is all eaten. Ceitain_distuxbances of 
t he hum anjorganisations into which such diseased meat has 
entec ed-are-well-recogQiaeBLby tjie .pfpgll^^tiurit is'So^SSs 
considered more economi cal to eat the meat .aL the jsdncsd 
.^iea».andTm_the_Sk_of_jhe consequences^ whiebf it Aould 
te-said,,a:e -iymo ineana.£cmstaJjt. Dead dogs^^nd .cats^are 

mules, and donkeys. We have been personally cognisant of 
several cases in which villagers cooked and ate dogs which 
had been purposely poisoned by strychnine to get rid of 
them. On one of these occasions some one was thoughtful 
enough to consult a foreign physician as to the probable re- 
sults, but as the animal was " already in the pot," the survivors 



22 CHINESE CHAR/ICTERISTICS 

could not make up their minds to forego the luxury of a feast, 
and no harm appeared to come of their indulgence! 

Another example of Chinese economy in relation to the 
preparation of food is found in the nice adjustment of the 
material of the cooking-kettles to the exigencies of the requi- 
site fuel. The latter is scarce and dear, and consists generally 
of nothing but the leaves, stalks, and roots of the crops, mak- 
ing a rapid blaze which quickly disappears. To meet the 
needs of the case the bottoms of the boilers are made as thin 
as possible, and require very careful handling. The whole 
business of collecting this indispensable fuel is an additional 
example of economy in an extreme form. Every smallest 
child, who can do nothing else, can at least gather fuel. The 
vast army of fuel-gatherers, which in the autumn and winter 
overspread all the land, leave not a weed behind the hungry 
teeth of their bamboo rakes. Boys are sent into the trees to 
beat off with clubs the autumnal leaves, as if they were chest- 
nuts, and even straws are scarcely allowed leisure to show 
which way the wind blows, before some enterprising collector 
has " seized " them. 

Every Chinese housewife knows how to make the most of 
her materials. Her dress is not in its pattern or its construc- 
tion wasteful like those of her sisters in Occidental countries, 
but all is planned to save time, strength, and material. The 
tiniest scrap of foreign stuff is always welcome to a Chinese 
woman, who will make it reappear in forms of utility if not of 
beauty, of which a whole pariiament of authoresses of " Do- 
mestic Economies" would never have dreamed. What can- 
not be employed in one place is sure to be just the thing 
for another, and a mere trifle of bias stuff is sufficient for the 
binding of a shoe. The benevolent person in London or New 
York who gives away the clothing for which he has no further 
use entertains a wild hope that it may not be the means of 
making the recipients paupers, and so do more harm than 



ECONOMY i3 

good. But whoever bestows similar articles upon the Chinese, 
though the stuffs which they use and the style of wear are so 
radically different from oiurs, has a well-grounded confidence 
that the usefulness of those particular articles has now at last 
begun, and will not be exhausted till there is nothing left of 
them for a base with which other materials can unite. 

The Chinese often present their friends with complimentary 
inscriptions written on paper loosely basted upon a silk back- 
ground. Basting is adopted instead of pasting, in order that 
the recipient may, if he chooses, eventually remove the inscrip- 
tion, when he will have a very serviceable piece of silk ! 

Chinese economy is exhibited in the transactions of retail 
merchants, to whom nothing is too small for attention. A 
dealer in odds and ends, for example, is able to give the pre- 
cise number of matches in a box of each of the different kinds, 
and he knows to a fraction the profit on each box. 

Every scrap of a Chinese account-book is liable to be 
utilised in pasting up windows, or in the covering of paper 
lanterns. 

The Chi nese constantl y carry- -their ecoBQnay-to-the-peint of 
d£Erivingdi£mselvgSua£ifladMxi. jdwfih they are seaJljLinjaeed. 
They see nothing irrational in this, but do it as a matter of 
course. A good example is given in Dr. B. C. Henry's " The 
Cross and the Dragon." He was carried by three coolies for 
five hours a distance of twenty-three miles, his bearers then 
returning to Canton to get the breakfast which was furnished 
them. Forty-six_iniIea before breakfast, ■vnth_ a heavy load 
half the way, to save five cents! 

In another case two chair coolies had gone with a chair 
thirty-five miles, and were returning by boat, having had noth- 
ing to eat since 6 a.m., rather than pay three cents for two 
large bowls of rice. The boat ran aground, and did not reach 
Canton till 2 p.m. next day. Yet these men, having gone 
twenty-seven hours without food, carrying a load thirty-five 



24 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

miles, offered to take Dr. Henry fifteen miles more to Canton, 
and but for his baggage would have done so! 

Many of the fniits of Chinese economy are not at all pleas- 
ing to the Westerners, but we cannot help admitting the 
genuine nature of the claim which may be built on them. In 
parts of the Empire, especially (strange to say) in the north, 
the children of both sexes roam around in the costume of the 
Garden of Eden, for many months of the year. This comes 
to be considered more comfortable for them, but the primary 
motive is economy. The stridulous squeak of the vast army 
of Chinese wheelbarrows is due to the absence of the few 
drops of oil which might stop it, but which never do stop it, 
because to those who are gifted with " an absence of nerves " 
the squeak is cheaper than the oil. 

If a Japanese emigrates, it is specified in bis contract that 
he is to be furnished daily with so many gallons of hot water, 
in which he may, according to custom, parboil himself. The 
Chinese have their bathing-houses too, but the greater part of 
the Chinese people never go near them, nor indeed ever saw 
one. " Do you wash your child every day ? " said an inquisi- 
tive foreign lady to a Chinese mother, who w&s seen throwing 
shovelfuls of dust over her progeny, and then wiping it off 
with an old broom. " Wash him every day ! " was the indig- 
nant response ; "he was never washed since he was bom! " 
To the Chinese generally, the motto could never be made 
even intelligible which was put in his window by a dealer in 
soap, " Cheaper than dirt." 

The Chinese doubtless regard the average foreigner as it 
is said the Italians do the EngUsh, whom they term " soap- 
wasters." Washing of clothes in China by and for the Chi- 
nese there certainly is, but it is on a very subdued scale, and 
in comparison with what we call cleanliness it might almost 
be left out of account. Economy of material ha? much to do 
with this, as we cannot help thinking, tor many Chinese appre- 



ECONOMY 25 

ciate clean things as much as we do, and some of them are 
models of neatness, albeit under heavy disadvantages. 

It is due to the instinct of economy that it is generally im- 
possible to buy any tool ready-made. You get the parts in a 
"raw" shape, and adjust the handles, etc., yourselves. It is 
generally cheaper to do this for one's self than to have it 
done, and as every one takes this view of it, nothing is to be 
had ready-made. 

We have spoken of economical adjustments of material, 
such as that found in ordinary houses, where a dim Hght, which 
costs next to nothing, is made to diffuse its darkness over two 
apartments by being placed in a hole in the dividing wall. 
The best examples of such adjustments are to be found in 
Chinese manufactures, such as the weaving of all kinds of 
fabrics, working in pottery, metal, ivory, etc. Industries of 
this sort do not seem to us to exemphfy ingenuity so much as 
they illustrate Chinese economy. Many better ways can be 
devised of doing Chinese work than the ways which they 
adopt, but none which make insignificant materials go further 
than they do with the Chinese. They seem to be able to do 
almost everything by means of almost nothing, and this is a 
characteristic generally of their productions, whether simple 
or complex. It applies as well to their iron-foundries, on a 
minute scale of completeness in a small yard, as to a cooking- 
range of strong and perfect draft, made in an hour out of a 
pile of mud bricks, lasting indefinitely, operating perfectly, and 
costing nothing. 

No better and more characteristic example of economy of 
materials in accompUshing great tasks could be found, even 
in China, than the arrangements, or rather the entire lack of 
arrangements, for the handhng of the enormous amount of 
grain which is sent as tribute to Peking. This comes up the 
Peiho from Tientsin, and is discharged at T'ung-chou. It 
would siurprise a " Corn Exchange " merchant to find that all 



z6 CHINESE CH/iRACTBRISTlCS 

the machinery needed for unloading, measuring, and removing 
this mountain of rice and millet is simply an army of coolies, 
a supply of boxes made like a truncated cone, which are the 
" bushel " measures, and an indefinite number of reed mats. 
Only this and nothing more. The mats are spread on the 
ground, the grain is emptied, remeasured, sacked, and sent off, 
and the mats being taken up, the Emperor's Com Exchange 
is once more a mere mud-bank! 

On an American tobacco plantation one of the heaviest ex- 
penses is the building of the long and carefully constructed 
sheds for drying. In Chinese tobacco farms there is for this 
object no expense at all. The sheds are made of thatch, and 
when they are worn out the old material is just as good for 
fuel as the new. When the tobacco is picked, the stout, stiff 
stalks are left standing. Straw ropes are stretched along these 
stalks, and upon the ropes are hung the tobacco leaves, which 
are taken in at night with the ropes attached, like clothes hung 
to a line. For simplicity and effectiveness this device could 
hardly be excelled. 

Every observant resident in China would be able to add to 
these illustrations of a Chinese social fact, but perhaps no 
more characteristic instance could be cited than the case of 
an old Chinese woman, who was found hobbling along in a 
painfully slow way, and on inquiry of whom it was ascertained 
that she was going to the home of a relative, so as to die in a 
place convenient to the family graveyard, and thus avoid the 
expense of coffin-bearers for so long a distance 1 




CHAPTER III, 



INDUSTRY. 



INDUSTRY is defined as habitual diligence in an^emgloy- 
ment — ^steady atten tion to, business. In this age of the 
world industry is one of the most highly prized among the 
virtues, and it is one which invariably commands respect. 

The industry of a people, speaking roughly, may be said to 
unite the three dimensions of length, breadth, and thickness ; 
or, to use a different expression, it may be said to have two 
qualities of p-^t^Pr"'""! ^"'^ ""^ "^ I'ntatisinn By the quality 
of length, we mean t he amount _of time dlKJngJvhich the_ in- 
dustry is exercised . By the quality of breadth, we mean the 

he faiiily-aftplied. By intension, we mean the amount of 
energy which is displayed in the " habitual diligence," and in 
" steady attention to business." The aggregate result will be 
the product of these three factors. It is by no means always 
the case that the impressions of the casual traveller and those 
of the old residents are the same, but there can be little doubt 
that casual travellers, and residents of the longest standing, 
will agree in a profound conviction of the diligence , of- the 
Qhingg£,4>sQple. The very first glance which a new-comer 
gets of the Chinese, induces him to think that this people is 
carrying out in social affairs the maxim which John Wesley 
named as the rule for a successful church — "All at it, and 
always at it." Mengsg^iaJ^iiBaJsjiaLSSaiKS^ Every 
one seems to bejJaia^,.Soni£ttUBgv. There are of course plenty 

27 



28 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

r,f YypalfHy p prsnns, a jbejt a mere micro scopijLJtogtkaLQUhfr 
whole community, >d»),.can. Ahmd a Dt3 y, l i YAv> a th« i it. dQiBg .j i ny 
\ gork. but tb£iiJ^£j£j»at..ar dinam ] y-^f.a^ki B d .. whidi is CTter - 
nally visible to the foreigpex. Wealthy people in China do 
not commonly retire from business, but devote themselves to 
it with the same kind and degree of attention as when they 
were poor. 

The.Chinese classify themselves as Sc holars, Farmers, Wo rk- 
men, and Merchants. Let us glaiiceareach of these subdivi- 
sions of society, and see what they have to say for the industry 
of the people. 

It is exceedingly diflScult for Occidentals to enter sympa- 
thetically into such a scheme of educ ation as that of the 
Chinese. Its gross defects are not likely to be overlooked, 
but one feature of it is adapted to thrust itself on the attention 
at all times — it has no re al rgyrarrlfi, prr'T*' *^"'' '^''lirf'r'''' The 
nfV"Y ^^':\i finnrs ^^rUir^Tn ar^ a^yaytj ppfn tff fr^f" "'^j;;j2^ 
tiie money to pmchase de^y ee s w ould seem well calculated to 
dampen the ardour of any student, but such is not the main 
effect of the sale of office. The complaint is made in all the 
provinces that there are far more eligible candidates for every 
position than there are positions to be filled.* All the ex- 
amination halls, from the lowest to the highest, seem to be 
perpetually crowded, and the number of students who com- 
pete in any single prefecture often rises to above ten thousand. 
When we consider the amount of mental toil which the mere 
entrance to any one of these examinations involves, we get a 
vivid conception of the intellectual industry of the Chinese. 
The traditional diKgence of the standard heroes mentioned in 
the Trimetrical Classic, who studied by the light of a glow- 
worm, or who tied their books to the horns of the ox with 
which they were ploughing, is imitated at the present day, 
with various degrees of approximation, by thousands in all 
parts of China. Irt many cases this industry begins to dis- 



INDUSTRY 29 

appear with the initial success of the first degree, but the 
Chinese do not consider such a one _a scholar at all, but re- 
serve this til;le of honniir jfor those whn Vp^ p nn.-ij i-tVi a ,Ti « Mntn i ii- 
ar»r1 fVinmy paf^, Until at length their Derseveran c&ig-gmw"pd 
wit^UFfietts. - In what land but China would it be possible 
to find examples of a grandfather, son, and grandson all com- 
peting in the same examination for the same degree, age and 
indomitable perseverance being rewarded at the age of eighty 
years by the long-coveted honour ? 

In the spring of 1889 various memorials appeared in the 
Peking Gazette relating to aged candidates at the provincial 
examinations. The Governor-General reported that at the 
autumnal examination in Foochow nine candidates over eighty 
years of age, and two over ninety, went through the prescribed 
tests and sent in essays of which the composition was good 
and the handwriting firm and distinct. Aged candidates, he 
says, who have passed through an interval of sixty years from 
attaining their bachelor's degree, and who have attended the 
three last examinations for the higher, are, if unsuccessful the 
fourth time, entitled to an honorary degree. The Governor 
of Honan in like manner reported thirteen candidates over 
eighty years of age, and one over ninety, who all "went 
through the whole nine days' ordeal, and wrote essays which 
were perfectly accurate in diction and showed no signs of fail- 
ing years." But even this astonishing record was surpassed in 
the province of Anhui, where thirty-five of the competitors 
were over eighty years of age, and eighteen over ninety! 
Could any other country afford a spectacle like this ? 
If theJife_o£jtb&.scholajt4a..Qj^i-is~ffliejaLauiie^^ 
__g ence^ that,Qf thft fgrmwr i<! Tipt l^gij so. His work, like that of 
a housekeeper, is never done. With the exception of a com- 
paratively brief period in the middle of the winter, throughout 
the northern provinces there never appears to be a time when 
there is not only something to do, but a great deal of it 



30 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

' Doubtless this is more or less true of fanning everywhere, 

J but the Chinese farmer is industrious with an industry which 

lit would be difficult to svu'pass. 

That which is true of the farmer class, is true with still 

I greater emphasis of the mere labourer, who is driven by the 
constant and chronic reappearance of the wolf at his door to 
spend his hfe in an everlasting grind. As the farmer bestows 
the most painstaking thought and care upon every separate 
stalk of cabbage, picking off carefully each minute insect, 
thus at last tiring out the ceaseless swarms by his own greater 
perseverance, so does the labourer watch for the most insig- 
nificant job, that he may have something for his stomach and 
for his back, and for other stomachs and backs that are wholly 
dependent upon him. Those who have occasion to travel 
where cart-roads exist, will often be obliged to rise soon after 
midnight and pursue their journey, for such, they are told, is 
the custom. But no matter at what hour one is on the way, 
there are small bodies of peasants patrolling the roads, with 
fork in hand and basket on their back, watching for oppor. 
tunities to collect a little manure. When there is no othei 
work pressing, this is an invariable and an inexhaustible re- 
source. 

It is by no means uncommon to see those who are hard 
pressed to find the means of support, following two different 
lines of occupation which dovetail into each other. Thus the 
boatmen of Tientsin, whose business is spoiled by the closing 
of the rivers, take to the swift ice-sled, by which means it is 
possible to be transported rapidly at a minimum cost In the 
same way, most of the rural population of some districts spend 
all the time which can be spared from the exigencies of farm 
work in making hats or in plaiting the braid, now so large an 
article of export. Chinese women are not often seen without 
a shoe-sole in their hands on which they are perpetually tak- 
ing stitches, even while talking gossip at the entrance of their 




o 



o 

X 



INDUSTRY 31 

alleys ; or perhaps it is a reel of cotton which they are spinning. 
But idle they are not. 

The indefatigable activity of the classes which have been 
named is well matched by that of the merchants and their em- 
ployes. The life of a merchant's clerk, even in Western lands, 
is not that of one who holds a sinecure, but as compared with 
that of a Chinese clerk it is comparative idleness. For to the 
work of the latter there is no end. His holidays are few and 
his tasks heavy, though they may be interspersed with periods 
of comparative torpor. 

Chinese shops are always opened early, and they close late. 
The system of bookkeeping by a species of double entry ap- 
pears to be so minute that the accountants are often kept 
busy till a very late hour recording the sales and balancing 
the entries. When nothing else remains to be done, clerks 
can be set to sorting over the brass cash taken in, in quest of 
rare coins which may be sold at a profit. 

It is a matter of surprise that the most hard-worked class 
j\i the rhir )fc;p rar.p is that class wh ich is most envied , and 
into which every ambitious Chinese strives to raise himself — to 
wit, the_officiaL The number and variety of transactions with 
which a Chinese official of any rank must occupy himself, and 
for the success of which he is not only theoretically but very 
practically responsible, is likewise surprising. How would our 
Labour Unions, who are so strenuous about the coming Eight 
Hours a Day, relish a programme of a day's work such as the 
following, which is taken from a statement made to an inter- 
preter in one of the Foreign Legations in Peking by an emi- 
nent Chinese statesman? "I once asked a member of the 
Chinese cabinet, who was complaining of fatigue and over- 
work, for an account of his daily routine. He rephed that he 
left home every morning at two o'clock, as he was on duty 
at the Palace from three to six. As a member of the Privy 
Council, he was engaged in that body from six until nine. 



32 CHINESE CHAR/tCTERISTlCS 

From nine until eleven he was at the War Department, of 
which he was President. Being a member of the Board of 
Punishment, he was in attendance at the office of that body 
daily from twelve until two, and, as one of the senior Minis- 
ters of the Foreign Office, he spent every day, from two till 
five or six in the afternoon, there. These were his regular 
daily duties. In addition to them he was frequently appointed 
to serve on special boards or commissions, and these he sand- 
wiched in between the others as he could. He seldom 
reached home before seven or eight o'clock in the evening." 
It is not strange to be told that this officer died six months 
after this conversation, from overwork and exhaustion, nor is 
it at all unlikely that the same state of things may put an end 
to many careers in China the continuance of which would have 
been valuable to the interests of the government. 

The quality of extension, of which we have spoken, applies 
to the number of those who are industrious, but it also applies 
to the extent of time covered by that industry, which, as we 
have seen, is very great. The Chinese day begins at a dim 
period, often not at a great remove from midnight. The 
Emperor holds his daily audiences at an hour when every 
Court of Europe is wrapped in the embrace of Morpheus. To 
an Occidental this seems simply inexphcable, but to a Chinese 
it doubtless appears the most natural thing in the world. And 
tl'-e conduct of the Son of Heaven is imitated more or less 
closely by the subjects of the Son of Heaven, in all parts of his 
Empire. The copper workers of Canton, the tinfoil workers 
of Foochow, the wood-carvers of Ningpo, the rice-mill workers 
of Shanghai, the cotton-cleaners and workers in the treadmill 
for bolting flour in the northern provinces, may all be heard 
late at night, and at a preposterous hour in the morning. 
Long before daylight the traveller comes upon a countryman 
who has already reached a distance of many miles from his 
home, where he is posted in the darkness waiting for the com- 
ing of daylight, when he will begin the sale of his cabbages! 



INDUSTRY 33^ 

Py fh" *■'""' n*^ - ^"^H -^ntuT \\m hnd his breakfast, a Chinese 
market is nearlvOTer. There are few more significant con- 
trasts tEanaxe suggested by a stroll along the principal street 
in Shanghai, at the hour of half -past five on a summer's morn- 
ing. The lordly European, who built those palaces which 
line the water-front, and who does his business therein, is 
conspicuous by his total absence, but the Asiatic is on hand 
in full force, and has been on hand for a long time. It will 
be hours before the Occidentals begin to jostle the Chinese 
from the sidewalks, and to enter with luxurious ease on their 
round of work, and by that time the native will have finished 
half his day's labour. 

Sir John Davis was quit e right in his comments o n the 
cheerful labour of the Chinese, as a sigjiJJiaLtheir^government 
Kac guf-.p^pflf^fl ia.,,gesxmngjhem great content _\Hl;lL.thEii-con- 
djtion. This qualit y of their la bonr k cme. of it<^ rnn^t Rlr'.^'""g ' 
characteristics, and to be comprehended mustbe long observed 

It remains to say a word of the quality of intension in Chi- 
nese industry. The Chinese are A siatiffq, and they work as 

such. It is in vain to atfprnpt tr» TTiqk^ over this virilp rarp nn 

JhejnodfiLet^irtfwTr: To us they certainly appear lacking^ 
in the he iairti"'""' ^^'^rh -we e at£em„s " hjpt^ily^ The Anglo-/ 
Saxon needs no scriptural hint to enable him to see the im- 
portance of doing with his might what his hand finds to do, 
but the rhinpgp pannnt hff midfi tn 1 1i iii|^i liii |i n r, though . 
the combined religions and philosophy of the ages were 
brought to bear upon him. He has profited by the accumu- 
lated experience of millenniums, and, like the gods of Homer, 
he is never in a hurry. 

Onp ranriQii/help ioracaatmg,fl time wheaUibe~w}ute.and-the 
^ell fl jjg raiT fl H wi ll r« ) m «ij ftt « ». a l f e £ na.£aiBEgtfei a. .tha. I lji Jiy :yet 
knoam. When that inevitable day shaUJiaYe =^S£dj»ffihich 

Surely if Solomon was right in his economic maxim that 



34 CHINESE CHy4R/lCTERISTICS 

the laaa^-J^J^OijSiih^iSSii^^ 

among.the mps t prosperous of tlie4>SflpleaeXiLth&.«aEdi»«»And 
sojhe^ciQjlbyess. would be,if tkeEe._w-erej!HUi.ihfiHkaJ)alance 
of virtues, instead q£ a conspicuous nhsrTirfl.iflf .sfflmg .of-these 
fuftdanaeBtal-qwrikies^liiol'i) Iriswww ■tl'iejrHUjr lae-eaamerated 

aS^".a?"s^pJt,vi^■±I]e■V-^-axeJIL^e%■llf^nslaJ3t■.^\^•n,,lJieiJ■.aba 

When, by whatever means, these qualities of honesty and sin- 
cerity shall have been restored to their theoretical place in the 
Chinese moral consciousness, then (and not sooner) will the 
Chinese reap the full reward of their unmatched Industry. 




POLITENESS, 

THERE are two quite different aspects in which the polite- 1 
ness of the Chinese, and of Oriental peoples generally, 
may be viewed — the one of appreciation, the other of criti- 
cism. The Anglo-Saxon, as we are fond of reminding our- 
selves, has, no doubt, many virtues, and among them is to be 
found a very large percentage oifortiter in re, but a very small 
percentage of suaviter in modo. When. ^ therefore, jffi come to 
the Orient, and find, the vast gogulations ofJhe^immense_A^- 
atic contineril.so grjeatly. o ur ,s)uj ;xeriQ rsr.in.i]ie,ai:t .of iubricatjng 
^e friction which is. siirfcjQ.aiise in th&.iiit£icfiHiSfi.-Oi _ man 
withinaa , ^fi ^^^ fi'l^lj WJt'l ttoit admir.a.tk»ri-mb]V-h k the tribute 
of those who.ca naQL.do-.a„thinEi to those who caiijio.JL.easilv 
fiJldjisJ^ The most bigoted critic of the Chinese is forced to 
admit that they have brought the practice o f pnlitenesf; to a 
T iitch of p e rfertip n which is not only unknown in Western 
lands, but, previous to experience, is imthought of and almos ,t 

unimflg'"""'^^''-- 

The rules of ceremon y, we are reminded in the Classics, are 
three hundred, and the rules of behaviour three thousand. 
Under such a load as this, it would seem ureasonable to hope 
for the continuance of a race of human beings, but we very 
soon discover that the Chinese have contrived to make their 
cej«]ftQnies, as they have made their education, an instinct 
rather than in ygni'rpmpnt-- The genius of this people has 
made the punctilio, which in Occidental lands is relegated to 

35 



,}& CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

the use of courts and to the intercourse of diplomatic life, a 

jarMnf % r pntinR nf fl;^ ^, y contact w i^|^, (}\h^^- We do no t 

mean that in their everyday life the Chinese are bound by 
such an intricate fflMpSM^teK'-S^-oKSEes^-mf'lISVfe Hien- 
tiaaSSLufeSli^^* the c ode, like a ^^* "f jiniiriay f^|fft1if"= [■■'■" "'"nyf! _ 

certain junctures the_ """"~"""" 2-^ "'hirh *''" '^^'iTrT rrriU" 
nise by an unerring instinct. On such occasions, not to know 
what to do would be for a Chinese as ridiculous as for an 
educated man in a Western land not to be able to tell, on 
occasion, how many nine times nine are. 

The difficulty of Occidental appreciation of Chinese polite- 
ness is that we have in mind such ideas as are embodied in 
the definition which affirms that " politeness is real kindness 
kindly expressed." So it may be in the view of a civilisation 
which has learned to regard the welfare of one as (theoreti- 
cally) the welfare of all, but in China politeness is nothing of 
this sort. It is a ritual of techr^^ ^ ji^e s ^ yl^^gh^ ?11ii tfifill"]'- 
calities. ate-impnrtanl:. n<at as the indice s „q£ a .state.ol JSJod-Or. 
of heart, but_.. a§. jiu3jM'dMdr4>axt&.^, ii,.t£Ogi.pkx..adMlfi. The 
en!irgi , .t^ffPry.! ^'^d . p ractice, of the use of honorific ^erms, so 
bey nlden ng, not ^to say maddening, to the, Qccadgntal, is sim- 
ply that these expressio ns, help to keep in view those fixed r e- 
lations of graduated.su periority. which are regarded j^jessffl- 
iiaJ,to,.the coQgeErajtowjt society. They also serve as lubri- 
cating fluids to smooth human intercoiu'se. Each antecedent 
has its consequent, and each consequent its antecedent, and 
when both antecedent and consequent are in the proper place, 
everything goes on well. It is like a game of chess in which 
the first player observes, "I move my insignificant King's 
pawn two squares." To which his companion responds, " I 
move my humble King's pawn in the same manner." His 
antagonist then announces, " I attack your honourable King's 
pawn with my contemptible King's knight, to his King's 



POLITENESS W 



bishop's mean third," and so on through the game. The 
game is not afEected by the employment of the adjectives, but 
just as the chess-player who should be unable to announce his 
next move would make himself ridiculous by attempting what 
he does not understand, so the Chinese who should be igno- 
rant of the proper ceremonial reply to any given move is the 
laughing-stock of every one, because in the case of the Chinese 
the adjectiv es are the game itself, .anjljaalUaJHQasy Jiemis 
to know Tinf^''"S 

At the same time, the rigidity of Chines' ^ ptj ^ ] "'^*'' ^'' ''^'"•i'"' 
HiVpptly gg thp HiVtfin^^f; frr.m the Centr es at which It-is iaos t 
e^ential(_^nd when one gets among rustics, though there is / 
the same appreciation of its necessity, there is by no means 
the familiarity with the detailed requirements which is found 
in an urban population. 

But it must at the same time be admitted that there are 
very few Chinese who do not know the proper thing to be 
done at a given time, incomparably better than the most culti- 
vated foreigner, who, as compared with them, is a mere infant 
in arms ; generally, unless he has had a long preliminary ex- 
perience, iilled with secret terror lest he should make a wrong 
move, and thus betray the superficial nature of his knowledge. 
It is this evident and self-confessed .in capfir'ty t" rnmply with 
the_ very^alphah^t of Chinese^r.eremnnial poUteness which 
paakes_lhe_£duGa-ted- classes, of ,Chiiia_lQok-Hdth„such undis- 
gnised_(and not, unnatural) con tempt on Jjie " Ba.rhggajs," 
w hQ.do.not u nderijtand " the round and the square," and who, 
CKen wheflJkeyJiaYe^beea maggagjramleC^E-Se beauties 
of the usa ges Qf.jiQlit£J if.e^jgianifest..jSiichL .di sd.a,infii1 ...indiffer- 
^iH^lJ^-SS'^^'J^^^MlElMSrignacwce. 

Politeness has been likened to an air-cushion. There is 
nothing in it, but it eases the jolts wonderfully. At the same 
time it is only fair to add that the politeness which the Chinese 
exercises to the foreigner (as well as much of that which he 



38 CHINESE CHAR/tCTERISTlCS 

displays to his own people) ig._ofteaet^cUBftoLi^ a^jJesJKL- 
to show that he«j;saU^t»J«adeEStaHds ihe ,pr£ipeii,.Jiioyes -ta be 
madgjjhan by a"Wish^^»-4®.^^atJdbd£h will be agreeable to his 
guest. He insists on making a fire which you~do not want," 
in order to steep for you a cup of tea which you detest, and 
in so doing fills your eyes with smoke, and your throat with a 
sensation of having swallowed a decoction of marshmallows ; 
but the host has at least estabhshed the proposition that he 
knows how a guest ought to be treated, and if the guest is not 
pleased, so much the worse for the guest. In the same man- 
ner the rural host, who thinks it is his duty to have the humble 
apartment in which you are to be lodged, swept and (figura- 
tively) garnished, postpones this process until you have already 
arrived, and despite your entreaties to desist he will not, though 
he put your eyes out by raising the dust of ages. The Book 
of Rites teaches, perhaps, that a room shall be swept, and 
swept it shall be, whatever the agonies of the traveller in the 
process. The same rule holds at feasts, those terrors of the 
uninitiated (and not seldom of the too initiated), where the 
zealous host is particular to pile on your plate the things that 
it is good for you to Uke, regardless of the fact that you do not 
want them and cannot swallow a morsel of them. So ranch 
the worse for you, he seems to say, but of one thing he is 
sure, lie will not be ..lacking in hisjizxt. No one shall be able 
to accuse him of not having made the proper mnvpg at ftif 
properj iiaes. If the foreigner does not know the game, that 
is his own affair, not that of the host. 

It was upon this principle that a Chinese bride, whose duty 
it had become to call upon a foreign lady, deliberately turned 
her back upon the latter, and made her obeisance towards a 
totally different quarter, to the amazement and annoyance of 
her hostess. Upon subsequent inquiry it turned out that the 
bride had performed her prostration to the north because that 
is the direction of the abode of the Emperor, no attention 



POLITENESS 39 

being paid to the circumstance that the person to whom the 
bride was supposed to be paying her respects was on the 
south side of the room. If the foreign lady did not know 
enough to take her place on the proper side of the room, the 
bride did not consider that any concern of hers ; she, at least, 
would show that she knew in what direction to knock her 
head! 

Chinese pohteness often assumes the .shape of a g ift. This, 
as ahready remarked, gives the recipient " face." There are 
certain stereotyped forms, which such offerings. taJ ce. One 
who has much to do with the Chinese will be always liable to 
deposits of packages, neatly tied up in red paper, containing a 
mass of greasy cakes which he cannot possibly eat, but which 
the giver will not take back, even though he is informed by 
the unwilUng recipient (driven to extremities) that he shall be 
obliged to give them all to some other Chinese. 

Chinesepoliteness by no means forbids one to " look a gift 
hnrse in the mouth " One is often asked how mucTTaTpfeseitt- 
cost him, and guests in taking leave of a host or hostess con- 
stantly use the formula : " I have made you much trouble ; I 
have forced you to sp«nd a great deal of money ! " 

A foreigner who had been invited to a wedding, at which 
bread-cakes are provided in abundance, observed that when 
the feast was well advanced a tray was produced containing 
only two or three bread-cakes, which were ostentatiously of- 
fered as being hot (if any preferred them so). They were first 
passed to the foreigner as the guest of honour, who merely 
declined them with thanks. For some unexplained reason, 
this seemed to throw a kind of gloom over the proceedings, 
and the tray was withdrawn without being passed to any one 

tirihutflii a fJYPrt I jjiiiTDiitniKafribiii thf nrfiaep<?,riafiSi.fl£itbai.ocraf>'"on» It 
was the usage of this locality to collect these contributions 
while the guests were still at the table, but as it would not 



40 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

conform to Chinese ideas of propriety to ask a guest for his 
offering, i t was rlonp nnrlpr thi^uis'^''''''p°""g^''^^^'"^if^^ 
cuit. Everyone understood this T30Kteiiction-C3ceept4he>ill- 
ui£(Hmed_iQrdgaer*,wh9se refaidoefldereditimpH^pe&iajiany 

r.pp p],gp ±n mq.TiTfi >ii.s rnntrihiitinn a.tJlikai,Mxa£. At a subse- 
quent wedding to which he was invited in the same family, 
this foreigner was interested in hearing the master of cere- 
monies, taught by dear experience, remark to the guests with 
more than Occidental directness, " This is the place for those 
who have accounts to come in and settle them ! " 

After all abatements have been made for the tediously 
minute and often irksome detail of trifles of which Chinese 
politeness takes account, for all of which it prescribes regula- 
tions, it still remains true that we have much to learn from the 
Chinese in the item of social intercourse. It is quite possible 
to retain our sincerity without retaining all our brusqueness, 
and the sturdy independence of the Occident would be all 
the better for the admixture of a certain amount of Oriental 
suavity. 

There are, however, many Occidentals who could never be 
brought to look at the matter in this light. An acquaintance 
of the writer's resided for so many years in Paris that he had 
unconsciously adopted the manners of that capital. When at 
length he returned to London, he was in the habit of removing 
his hat, and making a courteous bow to every friend whom he 
met. Upon one occasion, one of the latter returned his salu- 
tations with the somewhat unsympathetic observation, "See 
here, old fellow, none of your French monkey tricks here J" 
Happy the man who is able to combine all that is best in the 
East and in the West, and who can walk securely along the 
narrow and often thorny path of the Golden Mean. 



-<A^? 




CHAPTER V, 



THE DISREGARD OF TIME, 



IT IS a maxim of the developed civilisation of our day, 
"time is money." The complicated arrangements of 
modem life are such that a business man in business hours is I 
able to do an amount and variety of business which, in the 
past century, would have required the expenditure of time in- 
definitely greater. Steam and electricity have accomplished 
this change, and it is a change for which the Anglo-Saxon 
race was prepared beforehand by its constitutional tendencies. 
Whatever may have been the habits of our ancestors when 
they had little or nothing to do but to eat, drink, and fight, 
we find it difficult to imagine a period when our race was not 
characterised by that impetuous energy which ever drives the 
individuals of it onward to do something else, as soon as 
another something is finished. 

There is a significant difference in the salutations n j thp 
Cbiasse, and of the Anglo-Saxon. The former says to his 
comrade whom he casually meets.^ifc iiave you e aten. H cS^ 
The latter asks, "How do you doP " Doingjs^ the normal Y , 

^nnditiQii-n£.^tMt.ooay^.g- eating-ia Ae ,iirtrmq1 rnnHitinTi nf the(A6 

qS^^. , From that feeling which to us has become a second] 
nature, that time is money, and under ordinary circumstances 
is to be improved to its final second, the Chinese, like most 
Orientals, are singularly free. There are only twelve hoiurs in 
the Chinese day, and the names of these hours do not desig- 
nate simply the point where one of them gives place to another, 

41 



42 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

but denote as well all the time covered by the twelfth part of 
a day which each of them connotes. In this way the term 
" noon," which would seem as definite as any, is employed of 
the entire period from eleven to one o'clock. " What time is 
it," a Chinese inquired in our hearing, " when it is noon by the 
moon? " Phrased in less ambiguous language, the question 
which he intended to propound was this : " What is the time 
of night when the moon is at the meridian ? " 

Similar uncertainties pervade almost all the notes of time 
which occur in the language of everyday life. "Sunrise" 
and "sunset" are as exact as anything in Chinese can be 
expected to be, though used with much latitude (and much 
longitude as well), but " midnight," like " noon," means noth- 
ing in particular, and the ordinary division of the night by 
"watches" is equally vague, with the exception of the last 
one, which is often associated with the appearance of daylight. 
Even in the cities the " watches " are of more or less xmcertain 
duration. Of the portable time-pieces which we designate by 
this name, the Chinese as a people know nothing, and few of 
those who really own watches govern their movements by 
them, even if they have the watches cleaned once every few 
years and ordinarily keep them running, which is not often 
the case. The ^ommon people, are quite.jCft8tentiQ Jtell their 
tiffig. by Jhe, altitude of~the sun, whichc, is. various^ described 
SS^^^ikSESiM- '^°^^ " flagstaflEs," or if the day is ,doudy_a 
ggneral re sult can be arrived at by observing the contraction 
and dilatation of the pupil of a cat's eye, and such a result is 
quite accurate enough for all ordinary purposes. 

The Chinese use of time corresponds to the exactness of 
theii measures of its flight. According to the distinction 
described by Sydney Smith, the world is divided into two 
classes of persons, the antediluvians and the post-diluvians. 
Among the latter the discovery has been made that the age 
of man no longer runs into the centuries which verge on a 



THE DISREGARD OF TIME '■ ^^_ 

millennium, and accordingly they study compression, and 
adaptation to their environment. The antediluvians, on the 
contrary, cannot be made to reaUse that the da) & of Methu- 
saleh have gone by, and they continue to act as if hfe were 
still laid out on the patriarchal plan. 

Among these " antediluvians " the Chinese are to be reck- 
oned. A good C hinese story-teller, such as are employed in-^ 
the tea-shops to attract and retain customers, reminds one of ! 
Tennyson's " Brook." Men may come and men may go, but j 
he ^pes , . 0XL JLki£S.\.S3UJSMSt^ The game, is Jjue^of theatrical .^ 

e3shifeJtiaiK«jdttdl,49-JMtJSaSS iMJa^ ^.e. 

into insignificance m^,c.9fflj;iaxiaQiLJ!dJii.J3iose...Q£_Sia^^ 
we are assured by those who claim to have survived one of 
them that they are known to hold for two months together! 
The feats of Chinese jugglers when well done are exceedingly 
clever and very amusing, but they have one fatal defect — they 
are so long drawn out by the prolix and inane conversation of 
the participants, that long before the jugglers finish, the for- 
eign spectator will have regretted that he ever weakly con- 
sented to patronise them. Not less formidable, but rather far 
more so, are the intprmiualtle. r.hinpfp fpa^j-tS; with their almost 
incredible number and variety of courses, the terror and de- 
spair of all foreigners who have experienced them, although 
to the Chinese J hPir'S {;ntprtairLm«»«*a..geano.-t>ijt tnn.fihort Que.. 
of their mostpensive sayings observes that " theieJajio-feast 
iri^^yiarl^MMdlj;^iMjosi.ymS^m.MjSi^^," though to the, 
unhappy barbarian lured into one of these traps this hopeful 
generality is often lost in despair of the particular. 

From his earliest years, the Chinese is thoroughly accus- 
tomed to doing everything on the antediluvian plan. When 
h q gpes | o school. , he generally goes fac.fllg,daj^ extending to 
all the period from sunrise to dark, with one or two inter- 
missions for food. Of any other^system,jidtihCT^upi^ nor 
master have.^.vfir.J[i.eard. The examinations for degrees are 



144 -^ CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

protracted through several days and nights, with all grades 
of severity, and while most of the candidates experience much 
inconvenience from such an irrational course, it would be 
difficult to convince any of them of its inherent absurdity as a 
test of intellectual attainments. 

The products of the minds of those thus educated are redo- 
lent of the processes through which they have passed. The 

' Chinese language,itseW_is_essentiaU^ntediljj3aaav^ 

takejt requires th.ftJifetiSi£.of atMsthusaleh. It is as just to 

say of the ancient Chinese as of the ancient Romans, that jf_ 

Ithey had been ohliged-to learn theii, own language they .would 

(never have said or «a&teo«,ajaything..»QEtb...settiBg„daKR! 

I 6faiaeafiJustDaje*-are antediluvian, not merely in their attempt s 
to go back to^the ragged .fdgft, ,of zpxa fnr a point of depart- 
ure^but in the jntermioaJakJleBsth, nf the aluggish a-nd-ttirlMd 

\£UixenLwhich bears on ,itgJtjQ50B)-J3i»t. only 4he-^3ft^^»^^.4Eegeta- 
tjnn nf pagt.ages, but wood, hay^ and Stubble -past all leckour 
ing . None but a relatively timeless race could either compose 

^r read such histories ; none but the Chinese memory rnnlrl- 
stoTfiJlieiiLawa^Jii its capacious "abdomen." 

Chinese disregard of time is manifested in their industry, 
the quality of intension in which we have already remarked to 
be very, different from that in the work of Anglo-Saxons. 

How many of those who have had the pleasure of building 
^ house Jn China, with Chinese contractors and workmen, 

I thirst to do it again? The men come late and go early. 
Tli£jLai::£4teipetuallx, stopping todmik tea. They make long 
journeys to a distant Ume-pit carrying a few quarts of liquid 
mud in a cloth bag, when by using a wheelbarrow, one man 
could do the work of thre e ; but this result is hy ^ q mf""" th s 
one aimed at. If there is a . slight rain all work is su spended. 
There is generally abundant motion with but little pr Qgi-'"!'!) 
so that it is often difficult to percdy«whayt_is.jiBhich-wp«- 
saitsjhej^:sLi'-lab©»f^of igang"of-men. We have known 



THE DISREGARD OF TIME 45 

a foreigner, (Jissa^tjsfiedjirith^the slow progress j)f hi s carp en- 
ters in lathin g, accomplish while they were eating^heir dinner 
as much work as all four of them had done in half a day. 

The mere task.Qf. keeping-tb^^tQokJftrepaJr is for Chinese 
workmen a ^rious matter jn_e_xp endituigaiLtiiiie. If the tools 
belong to the foreigner, however, there is no embarrassment 
on this score. They are broken mysteriously, and yet no one 
has touched them. JVon est inventus is the appropriate motto 
for them all. Poles and small rafters are pitched over the 
wall, and all the neighbourhood loins appear to be girded with 
the rope which was purchased for supporting the staging. 
During the entire progress of the work, each day is a crisis. 
All previous experience goes for nothing. The sand, the lime, 
the earth of this place will not do for any of the uses for 
which sand, lime, and earth are in general supposed to be 
adapted. The foreigner is helpless. He is aptly represented 
by Gulliver held down by threads, which, taken together, 
are too much for him. Permanently have we enshrined in 
our memory a Cantonese contractor, whose promises, like his 
money, vanished in smoke, for he was imfortunately a victim 
of the opium pipe. At last, forbearance having ceased to be a 
virtue, he was confronted with a formidable bill of particulars 
of the things wherein he had come short. " You were told the 
size of the glass. You measured the windows three several 
times. Every one of those you have made is wrong, and they 
are useless. Not one of your doors is properly put together. 
There is not an ounce of glue about them. The flooring- 
boards are short in length, short in number, full of knot-holes, 
and wholly unseasoned." After the speaker had proceeded in 
this way for some time, the mild-mannered Cantonese gazed 
at him sadly, and when he brought himself to speak he re- 
marked, in a tone of gentle remonstrance: "Don't say dat! 
Don't say dat! No gentleman talk like dat/" 

Tnthft ghjnesp the rhrrmiV impatiptirp nf thf Angl^^-Sav^n 



46/ CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

;« T'nt nnly nn^rrnnntflhl p, hnt qiiite-. . u , Qr£a , s nnahlp, It has 
been wisely suggested that they consider thi> trait in nur 
Qliaractei!-afi'-efej«etieTrabte-ay-WTrnte''A^^ 

In any case, appreciation of the importance of celerity and 
promptness is difficult to cultivate in a Chinese. We have 
known a bag full of foreign mail detained for some days 
between two cities twelve miles apart, because the carrier's 
donkey was ailing and needed rest! The administration of 
the Chinese telegraph system is frequently a mere travesty of 
what it might be and ought to be. 

But in no circumstances is Chinpsp. in Hiffprpnr e to the lap se 
of time more annoying to a foreigner than when the occasion 
is a mere social call. Such calls in Western lands ar e recog- 
nised as having certain Jim ts, bey end- which they, mr^st not be 
protracted . In China, however, there are no limits . As long 
as the host does not offer his guest accommodations for the 
night, the guest must keep on talking, though he be expiring 
with fatigue. In caUing on foreigners the Chinese can by no 
possibility realise that there is an element of time, which is 
precious. They will sit by the hour together, offering few or 
no observations of their own, and by no means offering to 
depart. The excellent pastor who had for his motto the say- 
ing, " The man who wants to see me is the man I want to 
see," would have modified this dictum materially had he Uved 
for any length of time in China. After a certain experience 
of this sort, he would not improbably have followed the ex- 
ample of another busy clergyman, who hung conspicuously in 
his study the scriptural motto, "The Lord bless thy goings 
out!" The mere enunriatinn of his bnaJTip.;.; nff^t^ \^fm^ tn 
cost a Chi jissajLJaeiLt al wrench of a violent, f>^af3fter For 
a long time he says nothing, and he can endure this for a 
period of time sufficient to wear out the patience of ten Euro- 
peans. Then, whpn fi? bpprjp.^ \^ sppalf, ^'' rfah'sfi tV-^°^ 
of_|tifi_adage.jKluch.-iieckiea. that." it is easyja.ja-PJLJhfi- 



THE DISREGARD OF TIME 47 

mountains to fight tig ers, but to open your mou t h and out ) 
wi'tVi a thing — fliis if! harA I " Happy is the foreigner situated ' 
like the late lamented Dr. Mackenzie, who, finding that his 
incessant relays of Chinese guests, the friends " who come but 
never go," were squandering the time which belonged to his 
hospital work, was wont to say to them, " Sit down and make 
yourselves at home ; I have urgent business, and must be ex- 
cused." And yet more happy would he be if he were able to 
imitate the naive terseness of a student of Chinese who, hav- 
ing learned a few phrases, desired to experiment with them on 
the teacher, and who accordingly filled him with stupefaction 
by remarking at the end of a lesson, " Open the door! Gol " 




THE DISREGARD OF ACCURACY. 



THE first impression which a stranger receives of the Chi- 
nese is that of unifonn ityy Their physiognomy appears 
to be all of one type, they all seem to be clad in one perpetual 
blue, the " hinges " of the national eye do not look as if they 
were "put on straight," and the resemblance between one 
Chinese cue and another is the hkeness between a pair of 
peas from the same pod. But in a very brief experience the 
most unobservant traveller learns that, whatever else may be 
predicated of the Chinese, a dead level of uniformity canno t 
be safely assume d. The 'iHPRrh "^ any ±Mm Hi 'c tr igte^ no matter 

how contiguous, yan^fj in snmp intprpstinpr anri pprha.pg.jmar- 

countable -w ays. Divergences of this sort accumulate until 
they are held to be tantamount to a new " dialect," and there 
are not wanting those who will gravely assure us that in China 
there are a great number of different "languages" spoken, 
albeit the written character is the same. The same variations, 
as we are often reminded, obtain in regard to customs, which, 
according to a saying current among the Chinese, do not run 
uniform for ten // together, a fact of which it is impossible not 
to witness singular instances at^every turn. A like diversity is 
found to prevail in those standards nf qnaT^tity upon thft-i4»— 
soluteJiLvariability ^f-whichr«>-Biuch.of ihaxoimfort of life in 
Western lands ib found to depend. 
The existence of a.dniihlfl_atanflard nf-any-Jdady-which i? 

48 



THE DISREGARD OF ACCURACY 49 

often so keen an annoyance to an Occidental, is an equally 
l ^en joy to_dije .JPKmes^~'~Two-'kitidy-qf--ca^ two kinds of 
weights, two kinds of measures, these seem to him natural and 
normal, and by no means open to objection. A man who 
made meat dumplings for sale was asked how many of these 
dumplings were made in a day ; to which he replied that they 
used about " one hundred [Chinese] poimds of flour," the un- 
known relation between- this amount of flour and the number 
of resultant dumphngs being judiciously left to the inquirer to 
conjecture for himself. In like manner, a farmer who is asked 
the weight of one of his oxen gives a figure which seems much 
too low, until he explains that he has omitted to estimate the 
bones! A servant who was asked his height mentioned a 
measure which was ridiculously inadequate to cover his length, 
and upon -being questioned admitted that he had left out of 
account all above his shoulders ! He had once been a soldier, 
where the height of the men's clavicle is important in assign- 
ing the carrying of burdens. And since a Chinese soldier is 
to all practical purposes complete without his head, this was 
omitted. Of a different sort was the measurement of a rustic 
who affirmed that he lived "ninety // from the city," but upon 
cross-examination he consented to an abatement, as this was 
reckoning both to the city and back, the real distance being, 
as he admitted, only " forty-five // one way ! " 

The most conspicuous instance of this variability in China 
is seen in the method of reckoning the brass cash, which con- 
stitute the only currency of the Empire. The system is every- 
where a decimal one, which is the easiest of all systems to be 
reckoned, but no one is ever sure, until he has made particular 
inquiries, what number of pieces of brass cash are expected in 
any particular place to pass for a hundred. He will not need 
to extend his travels over a very large part of the eighteen 
provinces to find that this number varies, and varies with a 
lawlessness that nothing can explain, from the full hundred 



5© CHINESE CHMRACTeAiSTICS 

which is the theoretical " string," to 99, 98, 96, 83 (as in the 
capital of Shansi), down to 33, as in the eastern part of the 
province of Chihli, and possibly to a still lower number else- 
where. The same is true, but in a more aggravated degree, 
of the weight by which silver is sold, ^ n two ■ p la ces .have 
the same " ounce," unless by accident, and each place has a 
^eat "vaneiy of different ounces, to the extreme bewilderment 
of the stranger, the certain loss of all except those who deal 
in silver, and the endless vexation of all honest persons, of 
whom there are many, even in China. The mfllis:e_forjthe 
perpetuation of this monetary chaos is obvious, but we are aJL 
.^. presellT Concei aeiil' riTilir^wTSvlEfclacE^jrs fiUStence. 

The same holds true universally of measures of all sorts. 
The bushel of one place is not the same as that of any other, 
and the advantage which is constantly taken of this fact in 
the exactions connected with the grain tax would easily cause 
political disturbances among a less peaceable people than the 
Chinese. So far is it from being true that " a pint is a pound 
the world around," in China a " pint " is not a pint, nor is a 
" pornid " a pound. Not only does the theoretical basis of 
each vary, but it is a very common practice (as in the salt 
monopoly, for example) to fix some purely arbitrary standard, 
such as twelve ounces, and call that a pound (catty). The 
purchaser pays for sixteen ounces and receives but twelve, 
but then it is openly done and is done by all dealers within 
the same range, so that there is no fraud, and if the people 
think of it at all, it is only as an " old-time custom " of the 
salt trade. A similar uncertainty prevails in the- measurement 
of land.. In some districts the " acre " is half as large again 
as in others, and those who happen to live on the boundary 
are obliged to keep a double set of measuring apparatus, one 
for each kind of " acre." 

It is never safe to repeat any statement (as travellers in 
China are constantly led to do) in regard to the price of each 



THE DISREGARD OF ACCURACY 51 

" catty " of grain or cotton, until one has first informed him- 
self what kind of " catty " they have at that point. The same 
holds as to the amount of any .crop yielded per " acre," statis- 
tics of ■W\a ,<;\ pre tint I'TlfrPfl^Pritly prpepnted in ignrranrg of 

tiie vitalfafitAaiJiaCTe'' is not a fixed term. That a like 
state of things prevails as to the terms employed to measure 
distance, every traveller in China is ready to testify. It is 
always necessary in land travel to ascertain, when the distance 
is given in " miles " (/«), whether the " miles " are " large " oi 
not! That there is some basis for estimates of distances w« 
do not deny, but what we do deny is that these estimates or 
measurements are either accurate or uniform. It is, so far as 
we know, a universal experience that the moment one leaves 
a great imperial highway the " miles " become " long." If 1 20 
li constitute a fair day's journey on the main road, then on 
country roads it will take fully as long to go 100 li, and in the 
mountains the whole day will be spent in getting over 80 //. 
Besides this, the method pf re clffiningnifi frequrntly banflfl, not 
on absolute distance, even in a Chinese sense, but aiLUiSJCfila- 
tive difficult y nf f;f»tf-mpr mrpr tha,.prroiit^(j Thus it will_b e 
" ninety &"'.'. to the top of a mount ain^ thg-.g iMamifr- of which 
wpuId-Jiofe-a€tud}y°measta^iialf.,tha l;„di&tan ce frQm,J^e..ba^ 
and this number will be stoutly held to, on the ground that it 
is as much trouble to go this " ninety li " as it would be to do 
that distance on level ground. Another somewhat peculiar 
fact emerges in regard to linear measurements, namely, that 
the distance from A to B is not necessarily the same as the 
distance from B to A ! It is vain to cite Euclidian postulates 
that "quantities which are equal to the same quantity are 
equal to each other." In China this statement requires to be 
modified by the insertion of a negative. We could name a 
section of one of the most important highways in China, which 
from north to south is 183 li in length, while from south to 
north it is 190 /i, and singularly enough, this holds true no 



52 CHINESE CHy4RACTERlSTICS 

matter how often you travel it or how carefully the tally is 
kept!* 

Akin to this is another intellectual phenomenon, to wit, that 
in China it is not true that th fi-li -whole is equalJaJLe-S Hm-Of 
jjl its parts. " This is ?§Eecidj£^eja5e„iajaseLtovd^ On 
inquiry you ascertain that it is " forty /tl'. to a point ahead. 
Upon more careful analysis, this " forty " turns out to be com- 
posed of two " eighteens," and you are struck dumb with the 
"statem^irtEaF'Tour nines are forty, are they not ? " In the 

* Since this was written, we have met in Mr. Baber's " Travels in West- 
ern China " with a confirmation of the view here taken. " We heard, for 
instance, with incredulous cars, that the distance between two places 
depended upon which end one started from; and all the informants, 
separately questioned, would give the same differential estimate. Thus 
from A to B would be unanimoi'sly called one mile, while from B to A 
vould, with equal unanimity, be set down as three. An explanation 
of this offered by an intelligent native was this : Carriage is paid on a 
basis of so many cash per mile, it is evident that a coolie ought to be paid 
at a higher rate if the road is uphill. Now it would be very troublesome 
to adjust a scale of wages rising with the gradients of the road. It 
is much more convenient for all parties to assume that the road in diffi- 
cult or precipitous places is longer. This is what has been done, and 
these conventional distances are now all that the traveller will succeed in 
ascertaining. ' But,' I protested, ' on the same principle, wet weather 
must elongate the road, and it must be farther by night than by day.' 
' Very true, but a little extra payment adjusts that. ' This system may be 
convenient for the natives, but the traveller finds it a continual annoy- 
ance. The scale of distances is something like this : On level ground, 
one statute mile is called two li ; on ordinary hill roads, not very steep, 
one mile is called five li ; on very steep roads, one mile is called fifteen 
li. The natives of Yunnan, being good mountaineers, have a tendency 
to underrate the distance on level ground, but there is so little of it 
in their country, that the future traveller need scarcely trouble himself 
with the consideration. It will be sufficient to assume five local li, except 
in very steep places, as being one mile." 

In Mr. Little's " Through the Yang-tse Gorges," he mentions a stage 
which down the river was called ninety li, while up-stream it was 120 li. 
He estimates 3.62 li to a statute mile, or 250 to a degree of latitude. 



THE DISREGARD OF ACCURACY S3 

same manner, " three eighteens " make " sixty," and so on 
generally. We have heard of a case in which an imperial 
courier failed to make a certain distance in the limits of time 
allowed by rule, and it was set up in his defence that the 
" sixty /«' " were " large." As this was a fair plea, the magis- 
trate ordered the distance measured, when it was found that 
it was in reality " eighty-three //," and it has continued to be 
so reckoned ever since. 

Several villages scattered about at distances from a city 
varying from one /?' to six, may each be called " The Three- 
Li Village." One often notices that a distance which would 
otherwise be reckoned as about a /i, if there are houses on 
each side of the road, is called five //, and every person in that 
hamlet will gravely assure us that such is the real length of the 
street. 

Under these circumstances, it cannot be a matter of sur- 
prise to find that the regulation of standards is a thing which 
each individual undertakes for himself. The steel-yard maker 
perambulates the street, and puts in the little dots (called 
" stars ") according to the preferences of each customer, who 
will have not less than two sets of balances, one for buying 
and one for seUing. A ready-made balance, unless it might 
be an old one, is not to be had, for the whole scale of stand- 
ards is in a fluid condition, to be solidified only by each suc- 
cessive purchaser. 

The same general truth is illustrated by the statements in 
regard to age, particularity in which is a national trait of the 
Chinese. While it is easy tQ ..asCfiPteia- tJue's • g ge~WTA--exaQL- 
nes s, by the ar iirriaJ--g<wernwg-thp year in ffbich-h«-^««i.sj ^prrij 
and to which h e th^r^f"'"'' !l]bg^ggffl/ ' nothing is more com- 
mon than to he axJhfiJKJldest approximation to exactness. An 
old man is " seventy or eighty years of age," when you know 
to a certainty that he was seventy only a year ago. The 
fact is, that in China a person becomes " eighty " the moment 



54 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

he stops being seventy, and this " general average " must be 
allowed for, if precision is desired. ]^en when a Chinese in- 

tgijHgJahp pygrtj it will nffpn hfi fnnnd. -ltmJLJia^gu:gs.Iua-a^ 

as it^wiU be-afte^the«e3{t-N€w»¥e€H%-day« — the national birth- 
day in China. The habit nf reckoning by "tcno" ia doc p- 
fifntpdi nnfl hw^f, tft mil'jh Yari"''^'?sfh A few people are " ten 
or twenty," a " few tens," or perhaps " ever so many tens," 
and a strictly accurate enumeration is one of the rarest of ex- 
periences in China. The same vagueness extends upw; ards 

liSliL2L£]jiOfiSfi.£fl'i"^g- For greater accuracy than these 
general ex p ressi ons denote , the Chinese d o not care. 

An acquaintance told the writer that two men had spent 
" 200 strings of cash " on a theatrical exhibition, adding a 
moment later, " It was 173 strings, but that is the same as 200 
— is it not ? " 

Upon their departure for the home land, a gentleman and 
his wife who had lived for several years in China, were pre- 
sented by their Chinese friends with two handsome scrolls, 
intended not for themselves but for their aged mothers — the 
only surviving parents — who happened to be of exactly the 
same age. One of the inscriptions referred to "Happiness, 
great as the sea," and to " Old age, green as the perpetual 
pines," with an allusion in smaller characters at the side to the 
fact that the recipient had attained " seven decades of felicity." 
The other scroll contained flowery language of a similar char- 
acter, but the small characters by the side complimented the 
lady on having enjoyed " six decades of glory." After duly 
admiring the scrolls, one of the persons whose mother was 
thus honoured, ventured to inquire of the principal actor in 
the presentation, why, considering the known parity of ages 
of the two mothers, one was assigned seventy years, and the 
other only sixty. The thoroughly characteristic reply was 
given, that to indite upon each of two such scrolls the identi- 



THE DISREGARD OF ACCURACY 



55 



cal legend, " seven decades," would look as if the writers were 
entirely destitute of originality ! 

Chinese so ci al sdHda rit y^S^of ten fatal to what we mean by 
^gccuracy. A man who wished advice in "a lawsuit told the 
writer that he himself " lived " in a particular village, though 
it was obvious from his narrative that his abode was in the 
suburbs of a city. Upon inquiry, he admitted that he did 
not now live in the village, and further investigation revealed 
the fact that the removal took place nineteen generations ago 1 
" But do you not almost consider yourself a resident of the 
city now ? " he was asked. " Yes," he replied simply, " we do 
live there now, but the old root is in that village ! " 

Another individual called the writer's attention to an ancient 
temple in his own native village, and remarked proudly, "/ 
built that temple." Upon pursuing the subject, it appeared 
that the_e3iHce^dated froma reign in jthe Ming Dynasty, more 
tfeanjliBse, hundred years ago, when " I " only existed in the 
potential mood. 

One of the initial stumbling-blocks of the student of Chi' 
nese is to find a satisfactory expression for identity^^s distui' 
guished jErom resemMance, TEe^hole Chinese system 
Jtji inking is based on a line of assumptio ns (3ifferentiE^n_Ao§e. 

to which we are aCCH Stn""*'^; ""^ tjipy ran ill rnmpi-e'hpnr| 

the mania which seems to possess the Occidental to ascerta in 
ever y t h in g with ^ unerriD g_eyactT)^{"'. The Chinese dc'i'ff nvt 
know hftw mnny^-fftfmilift t r th tre are in h is r \ n*^^^^ l}] ^ f, and he 
doesJiat»sia«l*"t0-fefrew. What any human being can want to 
know this number for is to him an insoluble riddle. It is " a 
few hundreds," " several hundreds," or " not a few," but a fixed 
and definite number it never was and never will be. 

The same Jadtr of p'^^'^M^-wiiirJii^li^jg^^ji^ELl^ 

use of numbers ^ is equally conspicuous in their employment of | 
writtenandeven ofjmated chara^^^ rtls'^t easy to pro- 1 
cure a cheap copy of any Chinese book which does not abound 



56 CHINESE CHARACTERlSTldS 

in false characters. Sometimes the character which is em- 
ployed is more complex than the one which should have been 
used, showing that the error was not due to a wish to econo- 
mise work, but it is rather to be credited to the fact that ordi- 
narily accuracy is considered as of no importance. A like 
carelessness of notation is met with in far greater abundance 
in common letters, a character being often represented by an- 
other of the same sound, the mistake being due as much to 
illiteracy as to carelessness. 

Indifference to precision is nowhere more flagrantly mani- 
fested than in the superscription of epistles. An ordinary 
Chinese letter is addressed in bold characters, to " My Father 
Great Man," "Compassionate Mother Great Man," "Ances- 
tral Uncle Great Man," "Virtuous Younger Brother Great 
Man," etc., etc., generally with no hint as to the name of the 
" Great Man " addressed. 

It certadnly_sppe.ars siaglJar that,.an eminently practical 
peo2leJikeJh££lnjigsfi.shQiaLdj3e_saJasxa^^ regaridL.to their 
OBm-peis^ial-HaintfTas-obsewalieBaadisatjSSJ^fro.Jto^^ It 
is very common to find these names written now with one 
character and again with another, and either one, we are in- 
formed, will answer. But this is not so confusing as the fact 
that the s ame man often has several different names, his fam- 
ily name, his " style," and, strange to say, a wholly different 
one, used only on registering for admission to literary exam- 
inations. It is for this reason not uncommon for a foreigner 
to mistake one Chinese for two or three. The names of vil - 
lages are not less uncertain, som e^jgifis. appearing Jft^lsm. or 
even three ..entirely dSerent forms, and no one of them is ad- 
mitted to be more "right" than another. If one should be 
an acknowledged corruption of another, they may be employed 
interchangeably, or the correct name may be used in oflScial 
papers and the other in ordinary speech, or yet again, the 



THE DISREGARD OF ACCURACY 5T 

corruption may be used as an adjective, forming with the 
original appellation a compound title. 

The Chinese are unfortunately deficient in the education 
which comes from a more or less intimate aquaintance with 
chemical formulae, where the minutest precision is fatally neces- 
sary. The first generation of Chinese chemists will probably 
lose many of its number as a result of the process of mixing a 
" few tens of grains " of something with " several tens of grains " 
of something else, the consequence being an unanticipated 
earthquake. The Qhin^e_are as jpjijahiajjf A§§rning mmute 

grcnrar.y in, aU.jJawg^-a^'iTfiy^arfmrT^yprj^as-— tiayj more SO, 

for they are endowed with infinite patience — but what we have 
to remark of this people is that, as at present constituted, they 
ajgJsssJmBlJllfc.qMli4y-o£ -acGuiacy .and., that . they^ . d9„ ngJ 
und erstan djg33atJLis>.^f this is a true statement, two infer- 
ences would seem to be legitimate. First, miir.h q JJntygTirg 
flaM bejasdfi foLthis. trait in nur jexamination otJCbineseJiis- 
tg^aJL records*. We can readily deceive ourselves by taking 
Chinese statements of numbers and of quantities to be what 
they were never intended to be — exact. Secondly, a wide; 
margin must be_I^tJor.^lL vadsli^i^Si^'B^ha.t is„ dig^nifiedjyitb 
&£_,fjjle_^^a.£hiiiese"" eensus. ' ' The whole is not greater 
than its parts, Chinese enumeration to the contrary notwith- 
standing. When we have well considered all the bearings of 
a Chinese " census," we shall be quite ready to say of it, as 
was remarked of the United States Supreme Court by a canny 
Scotchman who had a strong realisation of the "glorious 
uncertainty of the law," that it has "the last guess at the 
case! " 




CHAPTER VII. 



THE TALENT FOR MISUNDERSTANDING. 

THIS remarkable gift of the Chinese people is first observed 
when the foreigner knows enough of the language to 
employ it as a vehicle of thought. To his pained surprise, he 
finds that he is not understood. He therefore returns to his 
[studies with augmented dihgence, and at the end of a series of 
years is able to venture with confidence to .accost the general 
•^public, or any individual thereof, on miscellaneous topics. If 
the person addressed is a total stranger, especially if he has 
never before met a foreigner, the speaker will have opportu- 
nity for the same pained surprise as when he made his maiden 
speech in this tongue. The ^nrlitnr PYi^^ontly4°"*yTn»t nnilfr 
staiid;- He as evidently does not expect to understand. He 
\asibly-pay&--aQ.-atteBtiew*..tQ what, i:i..saif1, makes .aQ.,cgort 
wllatever- to'-folkw- it, 'but-siBa^y^-iBtejEupts- you to observe, 
" ^ife£JLJ.23i.»SBgak^^e^o^not undereta^^^^ He has a smile 
of superiority, g,s.si,,oiifi.coaten4jlatiiigjhf..ggyggjg^of a dsai^- 
jB)ite,to^utter.^4J£jjJaJe spegcluaRiAs^^tf he svQuld say^^'JVJja 
supposed that you could be understood? It may be your 
misfortune and not your fault that you were not born with a 
Chinese tongue, but you should bear your disabilities, and 
not worry us with them, for when you speak we do not under- 
stand you." It is impossible to retain at all times an unruflBed 
serenity in situations like this, and it is natural to turn fiercely 
on your adversary, and inquire, " Do you understand what I 

58 



THE TALENT FOR MISUNDERSTANDING 59 

am saying at this moment ? " " No," he replies, " I do not 
understand you!" 

Another stage in the experience of Chinese powers of mis- 
understanding is reached when, although the words are dis- 
tinctly enough apprehended, through a disregard of details the 
thought is obscured even if not wholly lost. The " Foreigner 
in Far Cathay " needs to lay in a copious stock of phrases 
which shall mean, "on this condition," "conditionally," "with 
this understanding," etc., etc. It is true that there do not 
appear to be any such phrases, nor any occasion for them felt 
by the Chinese, but with the foreigner it is different. The 
same is true in regard to the notation of tenses. The Chinese 
do not care for them, but the foreigner is compelled to care 
for them. 

Of all subjects of human interest in China, the one which 
most needs to be guarded against misunderstanding is money. 
If the foreigner is paying out this commodity (which often ap- 
pears to be the principal function of the foreigner as seen from 
the Chinese standpoint) a future-perfect tense is "a military 
necessity." " When you shall have done yom- work, you will 
receive your money." But there is no future-perfect tense in 
Chinese, or tense of any description. A Chinese simply says, 
" Do work, get money," the last being the principal idea which 
dwells in his mind, the " time relation " being absent. Hence 
when he is to do anything for a foreigner he wishes his money 
at once, in order that he may " eat," the presumption being 
that if he had not stumbled on the job of this foreigner he 
would never have eaten any more! Eternal, ,YigiIanG©j-w^ 
must rgB saty-is-tbe- price at-wbiGltisHHUffli^jfeffl^inisiUiider- 
^n(Uiigs„about- mtmey is to be'^pwiAased ira^China. Who is 
and who is not to receive it, at what times, in what amounts, 
whether in silver ingots or brass cash, what quality and weight 
of the former, what number of the latter shall pass as a 
" string " — these and other like points are those in regard t(? 



6o CHINESE CH/IRACTERJSTICS 

which it is morally impossible to have a too definite and fixed 
understanding. If the matter be a contract in which a builder, 
a compradore, or a boatman is to do on his part certain things 
and furnish certain articles, no amount of prehminary precision 
and exactness in explanations will come amiss. 

To "cut off one's nose to spite one's face" is in China 
a proceeding too common to attract the least attention. A 
boatman or a carter who is engaged to go wherever the for- 
eigner who hires his boat may direct, sometimes positively 
refuses to fulfil his contract. The inflexible obstinacy of a 
Chinese carter on such occasions is aptly illustrated by the 
behaviour of one of his mules, which, on coming to a particu- 
larly dusty place in the road, lies down with great deliberation 
to its dust -bath. The carter meantime lashes the mule with 
his whip to the utmost hmit of his strength, but in vain. The 
mule is as indifferent as if a fly were tickling it. In consider- 
ing the phenomena to which this is analogous, we have been 
frequently reminded of the caustic comments of De Quincey, 
in which, with a far too sweeping generalisation, he affirms 
that the Chinese race is endued with " an obstinacy like that 
of mules." The Chinese are not obstinate like mules, for the 
mule does not change his mood, while the same obstreperous 
carter who defies his employer in the middle of his journey, 
though expressly warned that his " wine-money " will be wholly 
withheld should he persist, is at the end of the journey ready 
to spend half a day in pleading and in prostrations for the 
favour which at a distance he treated with contemptuous 
scorn. That a traveller should have a written agreement with 
his carters, boatmen, etc., is a matter of ordinary prudence. 
No loophole for a possible misconstruction must be left open. 

" Plain at first.aitei3azaala.ji,a^.iapiitp " {<; t; h fii PT"df Jt f^ph"' 
?jsni_ofjflia.£hmgse. Yet the chances are that, after exhaust- 
ing one's ingenuity in preliminary agreements, some occasion 
for misunderstanding will arise. And whatever be his care on 



THE TALENT FOR MISUNDERSTANDING 6i 

this point, money will probably make the foreigner in China 
more trouble than any other single cause. Whether the Chi- 
nese concerned happen to be educated scholars or ignorant 
coolies, makes Kttle difference. All Chi nese aregif tedjyith^ 
'''1?t''']l'iiti ^nr '•a1^i"g adnntiiiij^i if iiii iiiiiili iiiliiiii1iii(j- They 
find them as a January north wind finds a crack in a door, as 
the water finds a leak in a ship, instantly and without apparent 
effort. The 4_£glo-SaxQn r ace js_ jn some respects-swrgniarly 
a^aptettter-^SKeigg^^psQiinese gift. As the ancient Persians 
were taught principally the two arts of drawing the long bow 
and speaking the truth, so the Anglo-Saxon is soon perceived 

^ " ^^^ ^mii jjm j tfMi iii wii * * 1^1 h I ■ II I ml II I 1 1 J Hill Ill I ^ 

by: the Chinese. iQ„hav£- a, talent joryeracity and doing justice 
as ^ell toward&_.en em}g.S.,jasJamji:ds^^ To the Chinese 

these qualities-aeem as singular,as the-Te-wisL habit. n£.suspend- 
ing aU miUtarv operations every seventh _da3z.-iiQ..maJtter,how 

^SlSJiE^SE^^JJlSLSiS^L^''--®-^' --^" appeai^idjtftJiie^JU)- 
mans under Titus, and the one eccentriciJ^piaEes..Ji5.Jiseful. to 
the Chinese 'isi:he otIiCTdM to the Romans. 

Foreign intercourse with China for the century preceding 
i860 was one long illustration of the Chinese talent for mis- 
understanding, and the succeeding years have by no means 
exhausted that talent. The history of foreign diplomacy wit h 
Cjiina is Iarg.ely,,^hktoiy-e.f ^ttem^pted-expkmari&Bfr-e^-matters 
which have been de liberately JOMSmdeiStood. But in these or 
in other cases, the ini tial conviction that a foreigner will do as 
he has promised is deeply rooted in the Chine^ mind, and 
flourishes in spite of ^J^ 3,teveE.isn 1a,ted . ^at6 ept i flB &JaJJiaj:uk 
are forced upon ob gfiTY^t"'" The c onfidence, too, th at a, for - 
ei gner will act justly (also in spite of some private and many 
national examples to the contrary) is ec^ually firm . But given 
these two fixed points, the Chinese have a fulcrum from which 
they may hope to move the most obstinate foreigner. " You 
said thus and thus.'" " No, I did not say so." " But I under, 
stood you to say so. We all understood you to say so. 



62 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

Please excuse our stupidity, and please pay the money, as 
you said you would." Such is the substance of thousands 
of arguments between Chinese and foreigners, and in ninety- 
seven cases out of a hundred the foreigner pays the money, 
just as the Chinese knew he would, in order to seem strictly 
truthful as well as strictly just. In the remaining three cases 
some other means must be devised to accomphsh the result, 
and of these three two will succeed. 

Examples of the everyday misunderstanding on all subjects 
will suggest themselves in shoals to the experienced reader, 
for their name is legion. The coolie is told to pull up the 
weeds in your yard, but to spare the precious tufts of grass 
just beginning to sprout, and in which you see visions of a 
longed-for turf. The careless buffalo takes a hoe and chops 
tp every green thing he meets, making a wilderness and call- 
ing it peace. He did not " understand " you. The cook was 
sent a long distance to the only available market, with instruc- 
tions to buy a carp and a young fowl. He returns with no 
fish, and three tough geese, which were what he thought you 
ordered. He did not "understand" you. The messenger 
that was sent just before the closing of the mail witli an im- 
portant packet of letters to the French Consulate returns with 
the information that the letters could not be received. He 
has taken them to the Belgian Consulate, and the mail has 
closed. He did not " understand " you. 

How easy it is for the poor foreigner both to misunderstand 
and to be misunderstood is well illustrated in the experience 
of a friend of the writer, who visited a Chinese bank with the 
proprietors of which he was on good terms, and in the neigh- 
bourhood of which there had recently been a destructive con- 
flagration. The foreigner congratulated the banker that the 
fire had not come any nearer to his estabhshment. On this 
the person addressed grew at once embarrassed and then 
angry, exclaiming : " What sort of talk is this ? This is not a 



THE TALENT FOR MISUNDERSTANDING 63 

proper kind of talk!" It was not till some time afterwards 
that the discovery was made that the point of the offence 
against good manners lay in the implied hint that if the fire 
had come too near it might have burned the cash-shop, which 
would have been most unlucky, and the very contemplation of 
which, albeit in congratulatory language, was therefore taboo! 
A foreigner who was spending a short time in the capital met 
a drove of camels, among which was a baby camel. Turning 
to the driver of the cart, who had been for many years in the 
employ of foreigners, he said : " When you come back to the 
house, tell my little boy to come out and look at this little 
camel, as he has never seen one, and it will amuse him very 
much." After a considerable lapse of time, during which, as 
in the last case, the idea was undergoing slow fermentation, 
the carter replied thoughtfully : " If you should buy the camel, 
you could not raise it — it would be sure to die ! " 

The writer was once present at a service in Chinese, when 
the speaker treated the subject of the cure of Naaman. He 
pictured the scene as the great S)rrian general arrived at the 
door of Elisha's house, and represented the attendants striv- 
ing to gain admittance for their master. Struggling to make 
this as pictorial as possible, the speaker cried out dramatically, 
on behalf of the Syrian servants, " Gatekeeper, open the door ; 
the Syrian general has come ! " To the speaker's surprise a 
man in the rear seat disappeared at this point as if he had 
been shot 6ut, and it subsequently appeared that this person 
had laboured under a misunderstanding. He was the gate- 
keeper of the premises, and oblivious of what had gone before, 
on hearing himself suddenly accosted he had rushed out with 
commendable promptness to let in Naaman! 

Not less erroneous were the impressions of another auditor 
of a missionary in one of the central provinces, who wished to 
produce a profound impression upon his audience by showing 
with the stereopticon a highly magnified representation of a 



64 CHINESE CH/tRACTERlSTlCS 

very common parasite. As the gigantic body of this reptile, 
much resembling an Egyptian crocodile, was thrown athwart 
the canvas, one of the spectators present was heard to an- 
nounce in an awed whisper the newly gained idea, " See, thi» 
is the great Foreign Louse!" 



1 



CHAPTER VIII. 



THE TALENT FOR INDIRECTION. 



ONE of the intellectual habits upon which we Anglo- 
Saxons pride ourselves most is that of going directly to 
thejnaiiQW of ajsubj-ccty and- when we have- reached it saying 
£xae^-what we rnean. Considerable abatements must no 
doubt be made in any claim set up for such a habit, when we 
consider the usages of polite society and those of diplomacy, 
yet it still remains substantially true that the instinct of recti- 
linearity is the governing one, albeit considerably modified by 
special circumstances. No very long acquaintance is required 
with any Asiatic race, however, to satisfy us that their instincts 
and ours are by no means the same — in fact, that they are at 
opposite poles. We shall lay no stress upon the i sdundan cY 
ofJiOTionficJemgjjLitlL4§iatic-laJiSuages, some of which in 
this respect are indefinitely more elaborate than the Chinese. 
Neither do we emphasise the use of rlrriiti-jlnriirinnsj pfg^ 
phrases. and-. what inayLJae.--teMned-^lia6e8t. to express -ideas 

^liidx.aj£ 4^e r fa :. t 1 y .simfilMiMta;b^^ 

with simplicity . Thus a great variety of terms may be used 
in Chinese to indicate that a person has died, and not one of 
the expressions is guilty of the brutality of saying so ; nor does 
the periphrasis depend for its use upon the question whether 
the person to whom reference is made is an emperor or a 
coolie, however widely the terms employed may differ in the 
two cases. Nor are we at present concerned, except in a very 
general way, with the quality of veracity of language. When 

65 




66 CHINESE CHAR/tCTERJSTlCS 

every one agrees to use words in " a Pickwickian sense," and 
every one understands that every one else is doing so, the 
questions resulting are not those of veracity but of method. 

No extended experience of the Chinese is required to en- 
able a foreigner to arrive at the conclusion that it is impossi- 
ble, from merely hearing what a Chinese says, to tell what he 
means. This continues to be true, no matter how proficient 
one may have become in the colloquial — so that he perhaps 
understands every phrase, and might possibly, if worst came 
to worst, write down every character which he has heard in a 
given sentence ; and yet he might be unable to decide exactly 
what the speaker had in mind. The reason of this must of 
course be that the jpeaker did not pyprpss what h e had in 
"iJTirl^jTiij^ gni-npthi'rig f^<ie■ mnre, nr Ipss r.ng^a.1;f^ to it, from 
which he wis hed his meaning or a part of it to be inf p pred. 

Next to a competent knowledge of the Chinese language, 
Igge pfflvi;H;3ri''f'TTrffM"°Ti«-»-'flT^--''Pf'*>*>** '^ t ? '' "3^ ""^ '"^" i s t" 
_dSiL§accfi*sf»Hy"wid* the Gfeinese,aodJElia^2£LilJSi-fiSE8Ii^ 
this direction may be, in.many instances he will still go astra y, 
because these powers were not equal to what was required of 
them. In illustration of this all-pervading phenomenon of 
Chinese life, let us take as an illustration a case often occur- 
ring among those who are the earliest, and often by no means 
the least important, representatives to us of the whole nation 
— our servants. One morning the " Boy " puts in an appear- 
ance with his usual expressionless visage, merely to mention 
that one of his " aunts " is ailing, and that he shall be obhged 
to forego the privilege of doing our work for a few days while 
he is absent prosecuting his inquiries as to her condition. Now 
it does not with certainty follow from such a request as this 
that the " Boy " has no aunt, that she is not sick, and that he 
has not some more or less remote idea of going to see about 
her, but it is, to put it mildly, much more probable that the 
" Boy " and the cook have had some misunderstanding, and 



THE TALENT FOR INDIRECTION \(>X 

tiiat as the prestige of the latter happened in this case to be 
the greater of the two, his rival takes this oblique method of 
intimating that he recognises the facts of the case, and retires 
to give place to another. 

The i ndividual who has done ym r a favnnrj fm^vghrrh it 
wgs impossible to arrange at the time a, money payment, po- 
litel y but firmly declines the gratuity which jgaiJhink it jight 
t2_^^XLd-hi'^ '" tnVpn nf yniir nhligfltion What he says is that 
it would violate all the Five Constant Virtues for him to accept 
anything of you for such an insignificant service, and that you 
wrong him by offering it, and would disgrace him by insisting 
on his acceptance of it. Wlijf rlr»pg fhfg mpa^> j(- means 
that his hopes ,oLsdtaJ^.¥QU-^aMiM.mei>ijawa'e~blJ^^ by 
the smallag^„at=.da«. aiaevra*, and that, like OUver Twist, he 
''Grants more." And yet it may not mean this after all, but 
may be an intimation that vou do now^or will at some future 
time, have it JQ.4CQm.pasEfiJLliL.giy£jbdaLS0iMt^£;w^ will 
be even more desirable, to the acqu isition of which the present 
payment w ould be a bar^o^that lie prefers to J pavp ]"t..,a,n open 

If the Chinese are thus guarded when they speak of their 
own interests, it follows from the iiniversal_dreadofgiyii^ 
jffence '^^^'' tlT'y wi^^ 1?° rv"^" fm-iti'rM..- ..ni.^...fc pp . .ni r4»vg-.:^fl 
others, -yy hpn ttiprt^j'g t pnaBihility, nf^muhlp: arisanff. in. conse-l 
quence. Fond as they are of gossip and all kinds of small- 
talk, the Chinese distinguish with a ready intuition cases in 
which it will not do to be too communicative, and under these 
circiunstances, especially where foreigners are concerned, they 
are the grave of whatever they happen to know. In multi- 
tudes of instances the stolid-looking people by whom we are 
surrounded could give us " points," the possession of which 
would cause a considerable change in our conduct towards 
others. But unless they clearly see in what way they are to 
be benefited by the result, and protected against the risks, the 



OS CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

instinct of reticence will prevail, and our friends will maintaia 
an agnostic silence. 

Nothing is more amusing than to watch the demeanour of 
a Chinese who has made up his mind that it is best for him to 
give an intimation of something unfavourable to some one 
else. Things must have gone very far indeed when, even 
under these conditions, the communication is made in plain 
and unmistakable terms. What is far more likely to occur is 
the indirect suggestion, by oblique and devious routes, of a 
something which cannot, which must not be told. Our in- 
formant glances uneasily about as though he feared a spy in 
ambush. He lowers his voice to a mysterious whisper. He 
holds up three fingers of one hand, to shadow dimly forth the 
-notion that the person about whom he is not speaking, but 
gesturing, is the third in the family. He makes vague intro- 
ductory remarks, leading up to a revelation of apparent im- 
portance, and just as he gets to the climax of the case he sud- 
denly stops short, suppresses the predicate upon which every- 
thing depends, nods significantly, as much as to say, "Now 
you see it, do you not ? " when all the while the poor unen- 
lightened foreigner has seen nothing, except that there is noth- 
ing whatever to see. Nor will it be strange if, after working 
things up to this pitch, your " informant " (falsely so called) 
leaves you as much in the dark as he found you, intimating 
that at some other time you will perceive that he is right! 

It is a trait which the Chinese share with the rest of the 
race, to wjsh to keep hack j^aH ppwg 33 Inng ^b p^^fflbl-, and 
to communic ate it in a disyiised shape. But "good form" 
gmnng rViinpgp rpqmVpg tTTiaj^f^ppf;r.T^ tr. \^f. farriH to_anjex- 
tent _which certainl y^ jf rmfi »" "v nt -n n nn niirp ri ning rnifl fn tilr 
We have known a fond grandmother, having come unexpect- 
edly upon the whispered consultation of two friends, who had 
arrived expressly to break to her the news of the sad death of 
a grandchild away from home, to be assured with the empha- 



THE TALENT FOR INDIRECTION 69 

sis of iteration that they were only discussing a bit of gossip, 
though within half an hour the whole truth came out. We 
have known a son, returning to his home after an absence of 
several months, advised by a friend in the last village at which 
he called before reaching his home not to stay and see a the- 
atrical exhibition, from which he inferred, and rightly, that his 
mother was dead! We once had a Chinese letter entrusted 
to us for transmission to a person at a great distance from 
home, the contents of the missive being to the effect that 
during his absence the man's wife had died suddenly, and that 
the neighbours, finding that no one was at hand to prevent it, 
had helped themselves to every article in the house, which was 
literally left unto him desolate. Yet on the exterior of this 
epistle were inscribed in huge characters the not too accurate 
words, " A peaceful family letter " ! 

The Chinese talent for indirection is often exhibited in re- 
fraining from the use of numerals where they might reason- 
ably be expe£led>— ^Thus the^fi ve volumes ..gf a JjopjbLwillJ be 
labelled (^enevoler^ ^^afeKticSPirbpnetiif^ Wisdom^J-Confide^ 
because tTiis rs thp in variable, fflfej')t)„-^j|r]jit;h the-Myft 'Cnnstant 
Vfftues^are^jjaQjgd. The two score or more volumes of K'ang 
Hsi's Dictionary are often distinguished, not, as we should 
anticipate, by the radicals which indicate their contents, but 
by the twelve " time-cycle characters." At examinations stu- 
dents occupy cells designated by the thousand successive 
characters of the millenary classic, which has no duplicates. 

Another illustration of this subject is found in the oblique 
terms in which references are made, both by members of her 
family and others, to married women. Such a woman liter- 
ally has no name, but only two surnames, her husband's and 
that of her mother's family. She is spoken of as " the mother 
of so-and-so." Thus a Chinese with whom you are acquainted, 
talks of the illness of " the Little Black One his mother." 
Perhaps you never heard in any way that he had a " Little 



7° CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

Black One" in his household, but he takes it for granted that 
you must know it. If, however, there are no children, then 
the matter is more embarrassing. Perhaps the woman is 
called the "Aunt" of a "Little Black One," or by some other 
periphrasis. Elderly married women have no hesitation in 
speaking of their " Outside," meaning the one who has the 
care of things out of the house ; but a young married woman 
not blessed with children is sometimes put to hard straits in the 
attempt to refer to her husband without intimating the con- 
nection in words. Sometimes she calls him her " Teacher,'" 
and in one case of which we have heard she was driven to the 
desperate expedient of dubbing her husband by the name of 
his business — " Oilmill says thus and so! " 

A celebrated Chinese general, on his way to the war, bowed 
low to some frogs in a marsh which he passed, wishing his 
soldiers to understand that valour like that of these reptiles is 
admirable. To an average Occidental it might appear that 
this general demanded of his troop somewhat " large powers 
of inference," but not greater, perhaps, than will be called for 
by the foreigner whose lot is cast in China. About the time 
of a Chinese New- Year when the annual debt-paying season 
had arrived, an acquaintance,, upon meeting the writer, made 
certain gestures which seemed to have a deep significance. 
He pointed his finger at the sky, then at the ground, then at 
the person whom he was addressing, and last at himself, all 
without speaking a word. There was certainly no excuse for 
misapprehending this proposition, though we are ashamed to 
say that we failed to take it in at its full value. He thought 
that there would be no difficulty in one's inferring from his 
pantomime that he wished to borrow a little money, and that he 
wished to do it so secretly that only "Heaven," "Earth," "You," 
and " I " would know ! The phrase " eating [gluttony], drink- 
ing [of wine], lust, and gambling " denotes the four most com- 
mon vices, to which is now added opium smoking. A speaker 




I 



u 



£ 

X 

U 



THE TALENT FOR INDIRECTION 7» 

sometimes holds up the fingers of one hand and remarks, 
" He absorbed them all," meaning that some one was guilty 
in all these ways. 

It is an example of the Chinese talent for indirection, that 
owing to their complex ceremonial code one is able to show 
great disrespect for another by methods which to us seem 
preposterously oblique. The manner of folding a letter, for 
example, may embody a studied affront. The omission to 
raise a Chinese character above the hne of other characters 
may be a greater indignity than it would be in Enghsh to 
spell the name of a person without capital letters. In social 
intercourse rudeness may be offered without the utterance of 
a word to which exception could be taken, as by not meeting 
an entering guest at the proper point, or by neglecting to 
escort him the distance suited to his condition. The omission 
of any one of a multitude of simple acts may convey a thinly 
disguised insult, instantly recognised as such by a Chinese, 
though the poor untutored foreigner has been thus victimised 
times without number, and never even knew that he had not 
been treated with distinguished respect! All Chinese revile 
one another when angry, but those whose literary talents are 
adequate to the task delight to convey an abusive meaning by 
such delicate innuendo that the real meaning may for the time 
quite escape observation, requiring to be digested like the 
nauseous core of a sugar-coated pill. Thus, the phrase tung- 
hsi — Uterally " east- west " — means a thing, and to call a per- 
son " a thing " is abusive. But the same idea is conveyed by 
indirection, by saying that one is not " north-south," which 
implies that he is " east-west," that is, " a thing " ! 

Every one must have been struck by the wonderful fertility 
of even the most illiterate Chinese in the impromptu inven- 
tion of plausible excuses, each one of which is in warp and 
woof fictitious. No one but a foreigner ever thinks of taking 
them seriously, or as any other than suitable devices by which 



72 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

to keep one's "face." And even the too critical foreigner 
requires no common ability to pursue, now in air, now in 
water, and now in the mud, those to whom most rigid econ- 
omy of the truth has become a fixed habit. And when driven 
to close quarters, the most ignorant Chinese has one firm and 
sure defence which never fails, he can fall back on his igno- 
rance in full assurance of escape. He " did not know," he 
" did not imderstand," twin propositions, which, like charity, 
cover a multitude of sins. 

No more fruitful illustration of our theme could be found 
than that exhibited in the daily issues of the Peking Gazette. 
Nowhere is the habit of what, in classical language, is styled 
" pointing at a deer and calling it a horse " carried to a higher 
pitch, and conducted on a more generous scale. Nowhere is 
it more true, even in China, that " things are not what they 
seem," than in this marvellous lens, which, semi-opaque 
though it be, lets in more light on the real natiure of the Chi- 
nese government than all other windows combined. If it is 
a general truth that a Chinese would be more likely than not 
to give some other than the real reason for anything, and that 
nothing requires more skill than to guess what is meant by 
what is said, this nowhere finds more perfect exemplification 
I than in C hinese of lfipial Hfp, wHj^y^ fnm;iality ^;^d artificiality 
I ^rejLthein-m aamma. When a whole column of the " lead- 
ing journal " of China is taken up with a description of the 
various aches and pains of some aged mandarin who hungers 
and thirsts to retire from His Majesty's service, what does it 
all mean? When his urgent prayer to be relieved is refused, 
and he is told to go back to his post at once, what does that 
mean? What do the long memorials reporting as to matters 
of fact really connote? When a high official accused of some 
flagrant crime is ascertained — as per memorial printed — to be 
innocent, but guilty of something else three shades less blame- 
worthy, does it mean that the writer of the memorial was not 



THE TALENT FOR INDIRECTION 73 

influenced to a sufficient extent, or has the official in question 
really done those particular things ? Who can decide ? 

Firmly are we persuaded that the individual who can peruse 
a copy of the Peking Gazette and, while reading each docu- 
ment, can form an approximately correct notion as to what is 
really behind it, knows more of China than can be learned 
from all the works on this Empire that ever were written. 
But is there not reason to fear that by the time any outside 
barbarian shall have reached such a pitch of comprehension 
of China as this impUes, we shall be as much at a loss to 
know what he meant by what he said, as if he were really 
Chinese? 




CHAPTER IX. 



FLEXIBLE INFLEXIBILITY. 



THE first knowledge which we acquire of the Chinese is 
derived from our servants. Unconsciously to themselves, 
and not always to our satisfaction, they are our earliest teach- 
ers in the native character, and the lessons thus learned we 
often find it hard to forget. But in proportion as our experi- 
ence of the Chinese becomes broad, we discover that the con- 
clusions to which we had been insensibly impelled by our 
dealings with a very narrow circle of servants are strikingly 
I confirmed by our wider knowledge, for ttiere is a sense in 
V i w hich e very Chinese, jaajLJaa-saAd-4e--fee--an~epft qm c''o f-t he 
I whalejace. The particular characteristic with which we have 
now to deal, although not satisfactorily described by the para- 
doxical title which seems to come nearest to an adequate 
expression, can easily be made intelligible by a very slight 
description. 

Of all the servants employed in a foreign establishment in 
China, there is no one who so entirely holds the peace of the 
household in the hollow of his hands, as the cook. His aspect 
is the personification of deference as he is told by his new 
mistress what are the methods which she wishes him to em- 
ploy, and what methods she most emphatically does not wish 
employed. To all that is laid down as the rule of the estab- 
lishment he assents with a cordiality which is prepossessing, 
not to say winning. He is, for example, expressly warned 
that the late cook had a disagreeable habit of putting the 

( U\ 



FLEXIBLE INFLEXIBILITY 75 

bread into the oven before it was suitably raised, and that as 
this is one of the details on which a mistress feels bound to 
insist, he and his mistress parted. To this the candidate re- 
sponds cheerfully, showing that whatever his other faults may 
be, obstinacy does not seem to be one of them. He is told 
that dogs, loafers, and smoking will not be tolerated in the 
kitchen ; to which he replies that he hates dogs, has never 
learned to smoke, and being a comparative stranger, has but 
few friends in the city, and none of them are loafers. After 
these preliminaries his duties begin, and it is but a few days 
before it is discovered that this cook is a species of " blood 
brother " of the last one in the item of imperfectly risen bread, 
that there is an imaccountable number of persons coming to 
and departing from the kitchen, many of them accompanied 
by dogs, and that a not very faint odour of stale tobacco is 
one of the permanent assets of the establishment. The cook 
cordially admits that the bread is not quite equal to his best, 
but is sure that it is not due to imperfect kneading. He is 
particular on that point. The strangers seen in the kitchen 
are certain " yard brothers " of the coohe, but none of them 
had dogs, and they are all gone now and will not return — 
though they are seen again next day. Not one of the servants 
ever smokes, and the odour must have come over the wall 
from the establishment of a man whose servants are dreadful 
smokers. The cook is the personification of reasonableness, 
but as there is__r ix]thing tn rhnni^n hr dnrs r"*' ^^^i"'" ^^""f to 
chpg^it. 

The same state of things holds with the coolie who is set to 
cut the grass with a foreign sickle, bright and sharp. He re- 
ceives it with a smile of approval, and is seen later in the day 
doing the work with a Chinese reaping-machine, which is a 
bit of old iron about four inches in length, fitted to a short 
handle. " The old," he seems to say, " is better." The wash- 
erman is provided with a foreign washing-machine, which 



76 CHINESE CHAR/1CTERISTICS 

economises time, soap, labour, and, most of all, the clothing 
to be washed. He is furnished with a patent wringer which 
requires no strength, and does not damage the fabrics. The 
washing-machine and the wringer are alike suffered to relapse 
into " innocuous desuetude," and the washerman continues to 
scrub and wrench the garments into holes and shreds as in 
former days. Eternal vigilance is the price at which innova- 
tions of this nature are to be defended. 

The gardener is told to repair a decayed wall by using some 
rfdobe bricks which are already on hand, but he thinks it 
better to use the branches of trees buried a foot deep in the 
top of the wall, and accordingly does so, explaining, if he is 
questioned, the superiority of his method. The messenger 
who is employed to take an important mail to a place several 
days' journey distant, receives his packages late in the evening, 
that he may start the next morning by daylight. The next 
afternoon he is seen in a neighbouring alley, and on being 
sent for and asked what he means, he informs us that he was 
obliged to take a day and wash his stockings! It is the same 
experience with the carter whom you have hired by the day. 
He is told to go a particular route, to which, like all others in 
the cases supposed, he assents, and takes you by an entirely 
different one, because he has heard from some passing stranger 
that the other was not so good. riQ Qi is , r^pnlies ^ ■garJaD.ewy. 

icarters^ ^all agree in distrusting our judynent, a nd. in placing 
supreme reliance upo n-theirow n. 

Phenomena illustrating our subject are constantly observed 
wherever there is a foreign dispensary and hospital. The 
patient is examined carefully and prescribed for, receives his 
medicine in a specified number of doses, with directions thrice 
repeated to avoid mistakes, as to the manner in which and 
times at which it is to be taken. Lest he should forget the 
details, he returns once or twice to make sure, goes home and 
swallows the doses for two days at a gulp, because the excel- 



FLEXIBLE INFLEXIBILITY 77 

lence of the cure must be in the direct ratio of the dose. The 
most minute and emphatic cautions against disturbing a plas- 
ter jacket are not sufficient to prevent its summary removal, 
becaijse the patient does not wish to become a " turtle," and 
have a hard shell grow to his skin. 

It is not a very comforting reflection, but it is one which 
seems to be abundantly justified by observation, that the 
opinion of the most ignorant assistant in a dispensary seems 
(and therefore is) to the average patient as valuable as that of 
the physician in charge, though the former may not be able 
to read a character, does not know the name of a drug or 
the symptoms of any disease, and though the latter may have 
been decorated with all the letters in the alphabet of medical 
titles, and have had a generation of experience. Yet a hint 
from the gatekeeper or the coolie may be sufficient to secure 
the complete disregard of the directions of the physician, and 
the adoption of something certainly foolish, and possibly fatal. 

Thus far, we have spoken of i nstances Qf inflexib ilit y jm yhjr.h 
fojeignfirs-are-cone-eraed, for those are the ones to which our 
attention is soonest drawn, and which possess for us the most 
practical interest. But the more our observation is directed to 
the relations of the Chinese to one another , through which if 
anywhere their true dispositions are to be manifested, the 
more we perceive that the state of things indicated by the ex- 
pressive Chinese phrase " Outwa rdly ^'s '.n'^ardly if '"'}*_" is 
not exceptional. Chinese servants are yielding and complai- 
sant to Chinese masters, as Chinese servants are to foreign 
masters, but they have no idea of not doing things in their 
own way, and it is not unlikely that their masters .neve r for a 
TiTntr|Pnt ■^ijppr.gp fVi qt theif o rHprs yill h e literally ob eyjad. A 
foreign employer requires his employes to do exactly as they 
are told, and because they do not do so he is in a state of 
chronic hostility to some of them. A friend of the writer 
who had one of that numerous class of servants who combine 



78 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

extreme faithfulness with extreme mulishness — thus making 
themselves an indispensably necessary nuisance — ^happily ex- 
pressed a dilemma into which the masters of such servants are 
often brought, when he remarked that as regarded that partic- 
ular " Boy," he was in a condition of chronic indecision, 
whether to kill him or to raise his wages! The Chinese master 
knows perfectly well that his commands will be i^iored in 

Vanol)3 ways, but, Jtie gntiVipatpg thig inpvitahip rps.\^ as nnp' 

myhLgsUaid6.a.JX5a!:y a. for bad debts, or allow a margin for 
friction in mechanic s. 

The same greater or less disregard of or dprs appears; tn ]^rp^ 
Yi""^ tll^^^^S^ P^' '•^q YflirifflliS T'^.nliS si ^-hh^^^^- officials in their 
i;elatiQr) S «■" r.nP.anntTip,r, uy |<7 the yery tppp;instJQUiid. There 

are several .motives any one of which may lead to the contra- 
vening of instructions, such ac pprgnnal ipHnlpnrPj ayyish tO 

oWigejdeads, or, most potent of all, the magmeHr itiflnPTicp 
oLcasbi A district magistrate who lived in a place where the 
water is brackish, ordered his servant to take a water-cart and 
draw water from a river several miles distant. The servant 
did nothing of the kind, but merely went to a village where he 
knew the water to be sweet, and provided the magistrate with 
as much as he wanted of this fluid, to the saving of two thirds 
the distance and to the entire satisfaction of all parties. If the 
magistrate had known to a certainty that he was disobeyed, it 
is not probable that he would have uttered a whisper on the 
subject so long as the water was good. Jn Chinn " the cat 
that catches the rat is the good cat." NoJliiiig..sueeeedsJik£— 
guccess^ The dread of givijl2_2ff!?.1T-'LfIl!! *^t inr"*"-^^''"' '•" 
ilistinet-of-afv»^diag.Ajiisturbance would jarevent misdeme an- 
Qurs of diaQb£dience..£rQiiL being reported, though five hundr ed 
pfiopl«-«ii^»*-be-4«--tii£_aSQEet. That was a typical Chinese 
servant who, having been told to empty the water from a 
cistern into something which would save it for future use, 
was found to have poured it all into a well! Thus he con- 



FLEXIBLE INFLEXIBILITY 79 

trived to preserve the shell of conformity, with the most abso- 
lute negation of any practical result. Dr. Rennie mentions 
the case of an official_at_AmoY^ who cut Jn^two^an J^yjgaal 
proclamation, postin g fee _ last .^gart first, so that it ^ould not 
easily be read, Such devices are-C omniatua.mattera.c€>BeCTn- 

It is easy to see how such a policy of evasion may come 
into collision with the demands of justice. The magistrate 
sentences a criminal to wear a heavy wooden collar for a 
period of two months, except at night, when it is to be re- 
moved. By the judicious expenditure of cash " where it wil'i 
do the most good," this order is only so far carried out that 
the criminal is decorated with the cangue at such times as the 
magistrate is making his entrance to and his exit from the 
yamln. At all other times the criminal is quite free from the 
obnoxious burden. Does the magistrate not suspect that his 
sentence will be defeated by bribery, and will he slip out the 
back way in order to come upon the explicit proof of disobe- 
dience ? By no means. The magistrate is himself a Chinese, 
and he knew when the sentence was fixed that it would not 
be regarded, and with this in mind he made the term twice as 
long as it might otherwise have been. This seems to be a 
sample of the intricacies of official intercourse in all depart- 
ments, as exemplified by what foreigners continually observe. 
The higher ofiicer q;i;^firj„l33L6il»WPr tn nptf tJwti a fifirtniiTi step h 

ta^prl Tff ^ hw""- "ffigJaJ- rg.pnrt,^ , ;:psp,ff.tf;nfa„t^ifi!f i^j^g. bPP" 

^2Bfi» Meanwhile ngiiliBg«iiag,.^g^,jd^^^J:^all, In many 
cases tjtiis is t he en<j[^^Q^^^ But if there is a continued 

gessure _^m some quartcTjand the orders are urgent, die 
loTyer magijifragjr^^il^ftfi-thp pressure, to tto&^.illJiQffier, 
and throws the blame upon them, until the momentum of the 

Bressiiirel^ ,.ggbaj]sipyaTi^^ r.n-:jiuii--a.e, tTif y wpre 

bef^g^ This is called " reform," and i s often seen on a great 
scale, as in the spasmodic suppression of the sale of opium, or 



Sql CHINESE CH/tRACTERISTICS 

o f tlia r.iiltivatinn nf \he. poppy, with results which are known 
to all. 

There are doubtless those to whom the Chinese seem the 
most " obstinate " of peoples, and to such the adjective " flex- 
ible," which we have employed to characterise the " inflexi- 
bility " of the Chinese, will appear singularly inappropriate. 
Nevertheless, we must repeat the conviction that the Chinese 
are far fr "Tn hpinfr the mn<^f- ohgririai-p of peoples, and that they 
a re in fact far less obstinate thari tne Anglo-Saxons . We call 

them '"^.^i^iHg " .hprfinSf J ^itli a " firmrif j^tj^ 1jjijPj;lT^3tjTfniiiTl^^ 

tVipy jini'te a. raparify of bending of which the Anglo-Saxon is 
frequent ly Hpstitntp. 

' No better illustration of this talent of the Chinese for " flex- 
ibility " can be cited, than their atr'Hty tn TPc-f^yp s;racefull v 
a repi;-r)f)f. Among the Anglo-Saxon race it is a lost art, or 
rather it is an art that was never discovered. But the Oii- 
nese listen ^. pa.t.ignt1y, attentively, even cordially, while you 
are exposing to him his own shortcomings, as<;p^);s ''hp°rfTi11y, 
and adds. "Lam in fa ult, T am I'n fault- " Perhaps he even 
thanks you for your kindness to his unworthy self, and prom- 
ises that the particulars which you have specified shall be 
immediately, thoroughly, permanently reformed. These fair 
promises you well know to be " flowers in the mirror, and the 
■bright moon in the water," but despite their unsubj tantial 
katijre^jtjsimpossible not to be moUifipd- th erewiSrand this, 
fte it noted, is the object for which they were designed. 

Few comparisons of the s ort hit t he m grk tnorp <; ? yartly 
than_ thai wnicn..iiK:ens tne Chinese to thp hambn o It is 
graceful, it is everywhere useful, it is supple, and it is hollow. 
When the east wind bl r-wd i^ h^nHt; ^^ ^|ip ^^cf When th e 
west wind blovvgjt.-bf,iida, ,tQ-the.jea,6t. When no wind -blows 
iih^dnp£rint hpnri at all The bamboo plant is a grass. It is 
easy to tie knots in grasses. It is difficult, despite its supple- 
ness, to tie knots in the^ha mhfin, nlant. Nothing in nature is 



FLEXIBLE INFLEXIBILITY C:s&»« 



more flexible than a human hair. It can be drawn out a large 
percentage of its own length, and when the tractile force is 
withdrawn, it at once contracts. It bends in any direction by 
its own weight alone. There is a certain growth of hair on 
many human heads which consists of definite tufts, quite pen 
sistent in the dii-ection of their growth, and generally incapa- 
ble of any modification. Such a growth is vulgarly called a 
"cow-lick," and as it cannot be controlled, the remaining 
hairs, however numerous they may be, must be arranged with 
reference thereto. If the planet on which we dwell be con- 
sidered as a head, and the several nations as the hair, the 
Ghinps e race is a venerable cow -Hick, r.apablp "f hping rnmhpfl^| 

again just as b efore, and the general directwn of whigfe... js not j 
live ly to be changed. ~'~'~~~"- -" "~^ 




CHAPTER X. ^ I., 



INTELLECTUAL TURBIDITY. 



IN speaking of "intellectual turbidity" as a Chinese charac- 
teristic, we do not wish to be understood as affirming it to 
be a peculiarity of the Chinese, or that all Chinese possess it. 
Taken as a whole, the Chinese people seem abundantly able to 
hold their own with any race now extant, and they certainly 
exhibit no weakness of the intellectual powers, nor any tend- 
ency to such a weakness. At the same time it must be borne 
in mind that pfiiir-ati"r.n in .Ojing I'g rAtjfi-jrtrrl to a vfTy nnrrnw 
circle, and that those who are but imperfe ctly efli ^cated, nr 
who are not educated at all, pnjnyin »h° stni^tiiT^ 'if ife' Chi- 
nese langua ge wh at is cajledJauthe-Jaaqa^ 
Jjeiore the Ja ct " to any most flagrant intellectual turbidity of 
which they may be disposed to be guilty. 

Chinese nouns, as is by this time known to several, appear 
to be indeclinable. They are quite free from " gender " and 
" case." Chinese adjectives have no degrees of comparison, 
Chinese verbs are not hampered by any "voice," "mode," 
"tense," "number," or "person." There is no recognis able 

acter may be used indiscriminately in either capacity (or in- 
capacity)7aii2ii!a5K&SiQns asked. 'We^a^^ to com- 

plain that the Chinese language cannot be made to convey 
human thought, nor that there are wide ranges of human 
thought which it is difficult or impossible to render inteUigible 
in the Chinese language (though this appears to be a truth), 

83 



INTELLECTUAL TURBIDITY 83 

but only to insist that such a language, so constrasted»riniatea 
t" "intfil]f.t:t,iiftli it'iThidity" qfjil?e jiny"^^'"^-^"-''- !"'-'■'•= "<^ cnmmpr 

gently woo JojiternoonreEO§e. 

Nothing is more common in conversation with an unedu- 
cated Chinese than to experience extreme difficulty in ascer- 
taining what he is talking about. At times his remarks appear 
to consist exclusively of predicates, which are woven together 
in an intricate planner, the whole mass seeming, like Moham- 
med's coffin, to hang in the air, attached to nothing whatever. 
To the mind of the speaker, the omission of a nominative is a 
point of no consequence. He knows what he is talking about, 
and it never occurs to him that this somewhat important item 
of information is not conveyed to the mind of his auditor by 
any kind of intuition. It-Js.j^iQaEkablBJwliafe-'expeff'g^SesBess 
long practice has made most Chinese, in reading a meaning 
into words which dp , ,r',i;)t..fiQAY.fiy ,j't, by-the-simp1e prfirtice-of 

§HEPM°iLlMM?£tS-PX,£ISdKateS.^a^3Lbiyp^^ 
It is often the most important word in the whole sentence 
which is suppressed, the clue to which may be entirely un- 
known. There is very frequently nothing in the form of the 
sentences, the manner of the speaker, his tone of voice, nor 
in any concomitant circumstance, to indicate that the subject 
has changed, and yet one suddenly discovers that the speaker 
is not now speaking of himself as he was a moment ago, but 
of his grandfather, who lived in the days of Tao Kuang. 
How the speaker got there, and also how he got back again, 
often remains an insoluble mystery, but we see the feat accom- 
plished every day. To a Chinese there is nothing more re- 
markable in a sudden, invisible leap, without previous notice, 
from one topic, one person, one century to another, than in 
the abiUty of a man who is watching an insect on the window- 
pane to observe at the same time and without in the least de- 
flecting his eyes, a herd of cattle situated in the same line of 
vision on a distant hill. 



84 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

The fact that Chinese verbs have no tenses, and that there 
is nothing to mark transitions of time, or indeed of place, does 
not tend to clarify one's perceptions of the inherently turbid. 
Under such circumstances the best the poor foreigner can do, 
who wishes to keep up the appearance at least of following in 
the train of the vanished thought, is to begin a series of cate- 
chetical inquiries, Uke a frontier hunter "blazing" his way 
through a pathless forest with a hatchet. "Who was this 
person that you are talking about now? " This being ascer- 
tained, it is possible to proceed to inquire, "Where was this?" 
"When was it?" "What was it that this man did?" "What 
was it that they did about it?" "What happened then?" At 
each of these questions your Chinese friend gazes at you with 
a bewildered and perhaps an appealing look, as if in doubt 
whether you have not parted with all your five senses. But a 
persistent pursuit of this silken thread of categorical inquiry 
will make it the clue of Ariadne in delivering one from many 
a hopeless labyrinth. 

To the uneducated Chinese any idea whatever comes as a 
surprise, for which it is by no means certain that he will not 
be totally unprepared. He does not understand, because he 
does not expect to understand, and it takes him an appreciable 
time to gej such intellectual forces as he has into a position 
to be use^ at all. His mind is like a rusty old smooth-bore 
caanon inounte(LOT_a^ecregit caSHige, which requires. much 
hauling about before it can be pointed at anythingj_and tiien 
it.is sai& to miss fire. Thus when a person is asked a simple 
question, such as "How old are you? " he gazes vacantly at 
the questioner, and asks in return, " I ? " To which you re- 
spond, " Yes, you." To this he replies with a summoning up 
of his mental energies for the shock, " How old ? " " Yes, 
how old?" Once more adjusting the focus, he inquires, 
" How old am I ? " " Yes," you say, " how old are you ? " 



INTELLECTUAL TURBIDITY ^(TSS 

" Fifty-eight," he replies, with accuracy of aim, his piece being 
now in working order. 

A prominent exam|!le of Jj^eyssJsi^ .tobidityjltlie preva-^ 
l enr'^LE5!QY°SinOTmcing.^s,a- i£asQn.iep>a^-ftett"^^ 
" ^ElY do you not put salt into bread-cakes ? " you ask of a" 
Chinese cook. " Wt; do |^p|;„pi.it..gait...mi:Q...K.i:«3d-/;a.lrec^" ^g the 
explanation. " How is it that with so much and such beautiful 
ice in your city none of it is stored up for winter ? " " No, 
we do not store up ice for winter in our city." If the Latin 
poet who observed, " Happy is he who is able to know the 
reasons of things," had lived in China, he might have modified 
his dictum so as to read, " Unhappy is the man who essays to 
find out the reasons of things." 

Another mark of intellectual torpor is the inability ofan 
o.:i^iBaiy.Jaia d to oate r tai n an id e a / aw d~tbeH«>{>ass..it_fln. to 
aqpther.j 'n_ ,;^a,iiffirig[mal..iihflpp. To tell A something which he 
is to tell B, in order that C may govern his actions thereby, is 
in China one of the most fatuous of undertakings. EitheiUhe 
message will npyfr ^'^ 'j^ljv£££d ^.t all, becausej;lif; .pa^*''''"' 

concerned , d^4 i "°^ -^'? . te ^^^?4ly^^i]^^^^S?7P- ^^^ ^'• 

reaches C in such a shape tha t he cannot. c mniaeheadaUtHu 

i a a form totally at vari ance wit h its origi nal. To suppose 
that three cogs in so "complicateTa piece of machinery are 
capable of playing into each other without such friction as to 
stop the works, is to entertain a very wild hope. Even minds 
of considerable intelligence find it hard to take in and then 
give out an idea without addition or diminution, just as clear 
water is certain to refract the image of a straight stick as if it 
were a broken one. 

Illustrations of these peculiarities will meet the observant 
foreigner at every turn. "Why did he do so?" you inquire 
in regard to some preposterous act. " Yes," is the compen- 
dious reply. There is a certain numeral word in constant use, 



86 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

which IS an aggravating accessory to vague replies. It sig- 
nifies both interrogatively, " How many? " and affirmatively, 
"Several." "How many days have you been here?" you 
ask. " Yes, I have been here several days," is the reply. Of 
all the ambiguous words in the Chinese language, probably 
the most ambiguous is the personal (or impersonal) pronoun 
^;g,^JdJichsi^ifigS4)rQ^liscuoasly-"4i«v''-*''«he^-«P"^yfe"^^^ 
times the speaker designates the subject of his remarks by 
vaguely waving his thumb in the direction of the subject's 
home, or towards the point where he was last heard of. But 
more frequently the single syllable fa is considered wholly 
sufficient as a relative, as a demonstrative pronoun, and as a 
specifying adjective. Under these circumstances, the talk of 
a Chinese will be like the testimony of a witness in an English 
court, who described a fight in the following terms : " He'd a 
stick, and he'd a stick, and he w'acked he, and he w'acked 
he, and if he'd a w'acked he as hard as he w'acked he, he'd a 
killed he, and not he he." 

" Why did you not come when you were called ? " you 
venture to inquire of a particidarly negligent servant. " Not 
on account of any reason," he answers, with what appears to 
be frank precision. The same state of mental confusion leads 
to a great variety of acts, often embarrassing, and to a well- 
ordered Occidental intellect always irritating. The cook 
makes it a matter of routine practice to use up the last of 
whatever there may be in his charge, and then serves the next 
meal minus some invariable concomitant. When asked what 
he means by it, he answers ingenuously that there was no more. 
" Then why did you not ask for more in time? " " I did not 
ask for any more," is his satisfactory explanation. The man 
to whom you have paid a sum of cash in settlement of his 
account, going to the trouble of unlocking your safe and 
making change with scrupulous care, sits talking for " an old 
half-day " on miscellaneous subjects, and then remarks with 



INteUECTUAL TURBIDITY 8? 

nonchalance, " I have still another account besides this one." 
" But why did you not tell me when I had the safe open, so 
that I could do it all at once ? " " Oh, I thought that account 
and this one had nothing to do with each other!" In the 
same way a patient in a dispensary who has taken a liberal 
allowance of the time of the physician, retires to the waiting- 
room, and when the door is next opened advances to re-enter. 
Upon being told that his case has been disposed of, he ob- 
serves, with delightful simplicity, " But I have got another 
different disease besides that one ! " 

An example of what seems to us immeasurable folly, is the 
common Chinese habit of postponing the treatment of dis- 
eases because the patient happens to be busy, or because the 
remedy would cost something. It is often considered cheaper 
to undergo severe and repeated attacks of intermittent fever, 
than to pay ten cash — about one cent — for a dose of quinia, 
morally certain to cure. We have seen countless cases of the 
gravest diseases sometimes nourished to the point where they 
became fatal simply to save time, when they might have been 
cured gratuitously. 

A man living about half a mile from a foreign hospital, 
while away from home contracted some eye trouble, and 
waited in agony for more than two weeks after his return 
before coming for treatment, hoping each day that the pain 
would stop, instead of which, one eye was totally destroyed 
by a corneal ulcer. 

Another patient, who had been under daily treatment for a 
deeply ulcerated neck, mentioned on the eighteenth day that 
his leg prevented his sleeping. Upon examination he was 
found to have there another ulcer about the size and depth 
of a teacup ! When his neck was well he was intending to 
speak about his leg! 

Many such phenomena of Chinese life may serve to remind 
one of a remark in one of the novels of Charles- Reade, that 



CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

" Mankind are not lacking in intelligence, but they have one 
intellectual defect — they are Muddleheads ! " 
\ A Chme§e^.educa*i©n'^3y~no' meiSis"fits its ^ossMSSfTto-^ 
!g|gg_ajl3iiJ£ctia-a-"«Bmpreheusive and piacciral manner. It 
is popularly supposed in Western lands that there are certain 
preachers of whom it can be truthfully affirmed that if their 
text had the smallpox, the sermon would not catch it. The 
same phenomenon is found among the Chinese in forms of 
peculiar Hagrance. Chinese dogs do not as a rule take kindly 
to the pursuit of wolves, and when a dog is seen running after 
a wolf it is not unlikely that the dog and the wolf will be 
moving, if not in opposite directions, at least at right angles 
to each other. Not without resemblance to this oblique chase, 
is the pursuit by a Chinese speaker of a perpetually retreating 
subject. He scents it often, and now and then he seems to 
be on the point of overtaking it, but he retires at length, much 
wearied, without having come across it in any part of his 
coiu-se. 

China is the land of sharp contrasts, the Vi^^jidi and the 
wre.tche,dly4aflory-the highly edu.£3,ted,.3JUi~t^-]^ittei:^ugnGrant, 
l jying_si. 4e J^ side. Those who are both YS^y poor and very 
igaoiant, as is the fate of millions, ,^a^£_iBd£ed.^o»uaizasK.^ 
horizon that intellectual turbidity is compulsory. T^eir CX- 

isl^SSJ^-mereJir^featRt. a.i frnei,.ia.a,S^. to which ?siaJj!!« 
heavens appe^ only ,|^,gs,,Stii|iJ3f. darkness. Ten miles from 
their native place many such persons have never been, and 
they have no conception of any conditions of life other than 
those by which they have always been surrounded. In many 
of them even that ^'"^"ij^ilyr """'""'ty finm inQ lUlLalL r^^^" 
^lems^dormajit _or blighted._ Many Chinese, who know that 
a foreigner has come to live within a mile from their homes, 
never think to inquire where he came from, who he is, or what 
he wants. Tlj^knawjiowjo struggle for an existence, an d 
t hey know _nqthing,^lap. They do not know whether they 



INTELLECTUAL TURBIDITY 89 

have three souls, as is currently supposed, or one, or none, 
and so long as the matter has no relation to the price of grain, 
they do not see that it is of any consequence whatever. They 
believe in a future hfe i n whicht he ba,d.\KilLh &^uxned. into 
d~9gs and_uisectZlJa^tE¥y"SEobd^^ in prmil^'l^tinn pni-p 
^igd siniple^_in_wW^diebody becomes dirLj^gjiJihe-SQul — if 
there be one — f adejj^ ^^^^^yt 'TKey are the ultimate out- 
come of the forces which produce what is in Western lands 
called a " practical man,'' whose life consists of two compart- 
ments, a stomach and a cash-bag. Such a man is the true 
positivist, for he cannot be made to comprehend anything 
which he does not see or hear, and of causes as such he has 
no conception whatever. Life is to him a mere series of facts, 
mostly disagreeable facts, and as for anything beyond, he is 
at once an atheist, a polytheist, and an agnostic. An occa- 
sional prostration to he knows not what, or perhaps an offer- 
ing of food to he knows not whom, suffices to satisfy the 
instinct of dependence, but whether this instinct finds even 
this expression will depend largely upon what is the custom 
of those about him. In him the physical element of the life 
of man has alone been nourished, to the utter exclusion of the 
psychical and the spiritual. The only method by which such 
beings can be rescued from their torpor is by a transfusion of 
a new hfe, which shall reveal to them the subhme truth uttered 
by the ancient patriarch, " There is a spirit in man," for only 
thus is it that " the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them 
understanding." 




CHAPTER XI. 



THE ABSENCE OF NERVES. 



IT is a very significant aspect of modem civilisation which 
is expressed in the different uses of the word "nervous." 
Its original meaning is "possessing nerve; sinewy; strong; 
vigorous." One of its derivative meanings, and the one which 
we by far most frequently meet, is, " Having the nerves weak 
or diseased ; subject to, or suffering from, undue excitement 
of the nerves ; easily excited ; weakly." The varied and com- 
plex phraseology by which the peculiar phases of nervous 
diseases are expressed has become by this time familiar in our 
ears as household words. There is no doubt that civilisation, 
as exhibited in its modern form, tends to undue nervous ex- 
citement, and that nervous diseases are relatively more com- 
mon than they were a century ago. 

But what we have now to say does not concern those who 
are specially subject to nervous diseases, but to the general 
mass of Occidentals, who, while not in any specific condition 
of ill health, are yet continually reminded in a great variety of 
ways that their nervous systems are a most conspicuous part 
of their organisation. We allude, in short, to people who are 
" nervous," and we understand this term to include all our 
readers. To the Anglo-Saxon race, at least, it seems a matter 
of course that those who live in an age of steam and of elec- 
tricity must necessarily be in a different condition, as to their 
nerves, from those who lived in the old slow days of sailing- 
go 



THE y4BSENCE OF NERVES 91 

packets and of mail-coaches. Ours is an age of extreme 
activity. It is an age of rush. There is no leisure so much 
as to eat, and the nerves are kept in a state of constant ten- 
sion, with results which are sufficiently well known. 

Business men in oiur time have an eager, restless air (at least 
those who do their business in Occidental lands), as if they 
were in momentary expectation of a telegram — as they often 
are — the contents of which may affect their destiny in some 
fateful way. We betray this unconscious state of mind in a 
multitude of acts. We cannot sit still, but we must fidget. 
We finger our pencils while we are talking, as if we ought at 
this particular instant to be rapidly inditing something ere it 
be forever too late. We rub our hands together as if prepar- 
ing for some serious task, which is about to absorb all our 
energies. We twirl our thumbs, we turn our heads with the 
swift motion of the wild animal which seems to fear that 
something dangerous may have been left unseen. We have 
a sense that there is something which we ought to be doing 
now, and into which we shall proceed at once to plunge as 
soon as we shall have despatched six other affairs of even 
more pressing importance. The effect of overworking our 
nerves shows itself not mainly in such affections as " fiddler's 
cramp," "telegrapher's cramp," "writer's cramp," and the 
Uke, but in a general tension. We do not sleep as we once 
did, either as regards length of time or soundness of rest. 
We are wakened by slight causes, and often by those which 
are exasperatingly trivial, such as the twitter of a bird on a 
tree, a chance ray of light straggling into our darkened rooms, 
the motion of a shutter in the breeze, the sound of a voice, 
and when sleep is once interrupted it is banished. We have 
taken our daily life to rest with us, and the result is that we 
have no real rest. In an age when it has become a kind of 
aphorism that a bank never succeeds until it has a president 
who takes it to bed with him, it is easy to understand that. 



92 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

while the shareholders reap the advantage, it is bad for the 
president. 

We have mentioned thus fully these familiar facts of our 
everyday Western life, to point the great contrast to them 
which one cannot help seeing, and feeling too, when he begins 
to become acquainted with the Chinese. It is not very com- 
mon to dissect dead Chinese, though it has doubtless been 
done, but we do not hear of any reason for supposing that the 
nervous anatomy of the " dark-haired race " differs in any 
essential respect from that of the Caucasian. But though the 
nerves of a Chinese as compared with those of the Occidental 
may be, as the geometricians say, " similar and similarly situ- 
ated," nothing is plainer than that they are nerves ol a very 
different sort from those with which we are familiar. 

It seems to make no partieular difference to a Chinese he / 
long he remains in one position. He will write all day like 
an automaton. If he is a handicraftsman, he will stand in 
one place from dewy morn till dusky eve, working away at 
his weaving, his gold-beating, or whatever it may be, and do it 
every day without any variation in the monotony, and appar- 
ently with no special consciousness that there is any monotony 
to be varied. In the same way Chinese school-children are 
subjected to an amount of confinement, uiu-elieved by any 
recesses or change of work, which would soon drive Western 
pupils to the verge of insanity. The very infants in arms, 
instead of squirming and wrigghng as our children begin to do 
almost as soon as they are bom, lie as impassive as so many 
mud gods. And at a more advanced age, when Western 
.children would vie with the monkey in its wildest antics, 
jChinese children will often stand, sit, or squat in the same 
posture for a great length of time. 

. It seems to be a physiological fact that to the Chinese 
/ exercise is superfluous. They cannot understand the desire 
• which seems to possess all classes of foreigners alike, to walk 



THE ABSENCE OF NERVES 93 

when there is no desire to go anywhere ; much less can they 
comprehend the impulse to race over the country at the risk 
of one's life, in such a singular performance as that known as 
a " paper hunt," representing " hare and hounds " ; or the mo- 
tive which impels men of good social position to stand all the 
afternoon in the sun, trying to knock a base-ball to some spot 
where it shall be inaccessible to some other persons, or, on 
the other hand, struggling to catch the same ball with celerity, 
so as to " kill " another person on his " base " ! A Cantonese 
teacher asked a servant about a foreign lady whom he had 
seen playing tennis : " How much is she paid for rushing 
about Uke that ? " On being told " Nothing," he would not 
beheve it. Why any mortal should do acts hke this, when he 
is abundantly able to hire coolies to do them for him, is, we 
repeat, essentially incomprehensible to a Chinese, nor is it 
any more comprehensible to him because he has heard it 
explained. 

In the item of sleep, the Chinese estabhshes the same differ- 
ence between himself and the Occidental as in the directions 
already specified. Generally speaking, he is able to sleep any- 
where. None of the trifling disturbances which drive us to 
despair annoy him. With a brick for a pillow, he can he, 
down on his bed of stalks or mud bricks or rattan and sleep 
the sleep of the just, with no reference to the rest of creation. 
He does not want his room darkened, nor does he require 
others to be still. The "infant crying in the night" may 
continue to cry for all he cares, for it does not disturb him. 
In some regions the entire population seem to fall asleep, as 
by a common instinct (Kke that of the hibernating bear), dur- 
ing the first two hours of summer afternoons, and they do this 
with regularity, no matter where they may be. At two hours 
after noon the universe at such seasons is as still as at two 
hours after midnight. In the case of most working-people, 
at least, and also in that of many others, position in sleep is 



94 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

of no sort of consequence. It would be easy to raise in China 
an army of a million men — nay, of ten millions — tested by 
competitive examination as to their capacity to go to sleep 
across three wheelbarrows, with head downwards, like a spider, 
their mouths wide open and a fly inside ! 

Beside this, we must take account of the fact that in China 
breathing seems to be optional. There is nowhere any venti- 
lation worth the name, except when a typhoon blows the roof 
from a dwelling, or when a famine compels the owner to pull 
the house down to sell the timbers. We hear much of Chinese 
overcrowding, but "'^FJITSSJllillfiL-iE-^^^ ^^QT^^^'l ''""ditinn of 
the Chinese. and..thfly dciJiQt appeM^to be inconvpnipnced hy 
it at all,- nr,-m fffl trifling n dggBftft-thfrt' i) ritiirrlj ili ii nf-, 
m ention. If they had an outfit of Anglo-Saxon nerves, they 
would be as wretched as we frequently suppose them to be. 

The same freedom from the t granny of nerv giii, .i,s.„p,Xi);)'^'''^'^ 

irWV^pJ^Kijpgg an/JLLranr-A rvf ptiyefngLpait^- ThoSC who haVB 

any acquaintance with the operations in hospitals in China, 
know how common, or rather how almost universal, it is for 

the patients to ViParjintimm; fl',IJi':bi"g " 'Ifg^pf "f-pain ^(^p 

which the stantfiPt nf "^^^""l'^ 'iTirinV in tpn-nr. It would be 



easy to expand this topic alone into an essay, but we must 
pass it by, merely calling attention to a remark of George 
Eliot's, in one of her letters. " The highest calling and elec- 
tion," she says — irritated, no doubt, by theological formulas 
for which she had no taste — " is to do without opium, and to 
bear pain with clear-eyed endurance." If she is right, there 
can be little doubt that most Chinese, at least, have made 
their calling and election sure. 

It is a remark of Mrs. Browning's, that " Observation with- 
out sympathy is torture." So it doubtless is to persons of a 
sensitive organisation like the distinguished poetess, as well 
as to a multitude of others of her race. An Occidental does 
not like to be watched, especially if he is doing any delicate 



THE ABSENCE OF NERVES 95 

or difBcult work, feut perhaps a Chinese does his best work 
under close observation. We all of us grow rapidly weary of 
being stared at by the swarms of curious Chinese who crowd 
about a foreigner, in every spot to which foreigners do not 
commonly resort. We often declare that we shall " go wild " 
if we cannot in some way disperse those who are subjecting 
us to no other injury than that of unsympathetic observation. 
But to the Chinese this instinctive feeling of the Occidental is 

utterly incomprehensible. Hp Hnes-nnt care linw many people 

seeJamMJiQt^wben^aQiuiaiLbiaffi-grea^ and 

he cannot help s "spe(p.tj|,T)fr. that t^°r° ^"f* '^•^ snmpthinc Yr''~"^z 
qbout persons who so vehgmmtl^resen^^ inspection. 

It is not alone when_he^jlee^§,,:fliaL,aji,Omi[i^ 
qui et, but most of a ll when he isjick. Then, if never before, 
he demands freedom from the annoyance of needless noises. 
Friends, nurses, physicians, all conspire to insiure this most 
necessary condition for recovery ; and ij^recoveiy is beyond 
hope, then more than ever is the sufferer jJJgateA^o be in as 
g reat peace as c u:cumstances admit. Nothing^ the habits 
of the Chinese presents a greater contrast to those of Western- 
ers, than the b^ehawiHLjSLti^CfillSSeJto-Qne.ajio^^ cases 
ofsiSness. The ma jfication of, dig^fiKeaLi&^ signp] far all- 
varieties of raids M \>m\ th&.ps*'^"^-"'^ ^'^"' g^^iy qugy'^^^) i" num- 
liaS..prspcH±ioiied-to -the .gEa*itjtJoLthje,.disease. Quiet is no t 
for a memaeftt -'Hrlre'-thetrght of, and, strange to. say, ao^one 
appears-to^-demreit. The bustle attendant upon the arrival 
and departm-e of so many guests, the work of entertaining 
them, the waitings of those who fear that a death is soon to 
take place, and especially the pandemonium made by priests, 
priestesses, and others to drive away the malignant spirits, 
constitute an environment from which death would be to most 
Europeans a happy escape. Occidentals cannot fail to sym- 
pathise with the distinguished French lady who sent word to 
a caller that she " begged to be excused, as she was engaged 



$6 CHINESE CH/IRACTERJSTICS 

in dying." In China such an excuse would never be offered, 
nor, if it were offered, would it be accepted. 

It remains to speak of the worries and anxieties to which 
humanity is everywhere subjected in this distracted world. 
The Chinese are not only as accessible to these evils as any 
other people, but far more so. The conditions^of Ji^jocial 

tion who are always on the jaggedjg.dge_ oLruip. A sUght 
diminution of the rainfall means starvation to hundreds of 
thousands. A slight increase in the rainfall means the devas- 
tation of their homes by destructive floods, for which there is 
no known remedy. No Chinese is safe from the entanglement 
of a lawsuit, which, though he be perfectly innocent, may work 
his ruin. Many of these disasters are not only seen, but their 
stealthy and steady approach is perceived, like the gradual 
shrinking of the iron shroud. To us noJJjiagjsjQore-dreadful 
than the m nmrn tiTy i.A|iiM ' .I.L l i ijii ii f a f i i lBro it y whf rJi r.a.nnn t 
be.iore.feadRd».flnd which -may bri»g all thaitrk-boaable.^ its 
tiaiP- The r^vi'nofjf. fo^/fo these lhJ"CSiJ''^^'^r'' because^ diey 
seem to be inevitable, with a "clear-eyed enduranc e." which 
is one of the most remarkabl e phenomena-of-the-racfi. Those 
who have witnessed the i>erfectlv quiet starvation of millio ns 
in times of deva sta t ing Jam m£-\rilLiifila^Zto_^^ 
inhere meant. To be fully appreciated, it must be seen, but 
seen on no matter what scale, it is as difficult for an Occi- 
dental really to understand it as it is for a Chinese truly to 
understand the idea of personal and social libeAy, which the 
Anglo-Saxon has inherited and developed. 

In whatever aspect we regard them, the Chinese are and 
must continue to be to us more or less a puzzle, but we shall 
make no approach to comprehending them, until we have it 
settled firmly in our minds that, fts Compared withjjy, they are 
giftedjnth„the.J[|_absencej^ bearing of 

tiils pregnant proposition may be on the future impact of this 



THE ABSENCE OF NERVES 97 

race with our own — an impact likely to become more violent 
as the years go by — we shall not venture to conjecture. We 
have come to believe, at least in general, in the survival of the 
most fit. Which is the best adapted to survive in the strug- 
gles of the twentieth century, the " nervous " European, or the 
tireless, all-pervading, and phlegmatic Chinese? 




CONTEMPT FOR FORKIGNERS. 

IT is difficult for the European traveller who visits the city 
of Canton for the first time, to realise the fact that this 
Chinese emporium has enjoyed regular intercourse with Euro- 
peans for a period of more than three hundred and sixty 
years. During much the greater part of that time there was 
very little in the conduct of any Western nation in its dealings 
with the Chinese of which we have any reason to be. proud. 
The normal attitude of the Chinese towards the people of 
other lands who chose to come to China for any purpose 
whatever, has been the attitude of the ancient Greeks to every 
nation not Grecian, considering and treating them as "bar- 
barians." It is only since i860, by a special clause in the 
treaties, that a character which signifies "barbarian," and 
which the Chinese had been in the habit of employing in offi- 
cial documents as synonymous with the word " foreign," was 
disallowed. > 

It must always be remembered in connection with the be- 
haviour of the Chinese towards outside natiods of the West, 
that the Chinese had for ages been surrounded only by the 
most conspicuous inferiority, and had thus been flattered in 
the most dangerous because the most plausible and therefore 
the most effective, way. Finding, as they did, that the for- 
eigners with whom they came into contact could be alternately 
cajoled and bullied into conforming to the wishes of the Chi- 
nese, the latter were but con&med in their conviction of their 




The Empress Dowager of China. 



CONTEMPT FOR FOREIGNERS 99 

own unspeakable superiority, and invariably acted upon this 

theory, until compelled by t ^P r.ap|;nrp nf PpVing *n An nihpr. 

wise. Since that time, although only a generation has passed 
away, great changes have come over China, and it might be 
supposed that now at length foreign civiHsation and foreigners 
would be appreciated by the Chinese at their full value. No 
very extended or intimate acquaintance with the Chinese peo- 
ple is needed, however, to convince any candid observer that 
the present normal attitude of the Chinese mind, oificial and 
unofficial, towards foreigners, is not one of respect. If the 
Chines e do not feel^for^ us. an actual, contempt, ^e^^dojegj 
CMidggfifinai^, and often unintentionally manifest it. It is 
this phenomenon with which we have now to deal. 

The first ppr^ilian'ty-MrVuVTi tlie_C2!irj£S:lJ212iJCSJllJ:Sg^li!L" 

fnrpTgnfrs is thpir Arpss.^ and in this we think no one will claim 
that we have much of which we can be proud. It is true that 
all varieties of the Oriental costume seem to us to be climisy, 
pendulous, and restrictive of "personal liberty," but that is 
because our requirements in the line of active motion are 
utterly different from those of any Oriental people. When 
we consider the Oriental modes of dress as adapted to Orien- 
tals, we cannot help recognising the imdoubted fact that for 
Orientals this dress is exactly suited. But when Orientals, 
and especially Chinese, examine ova costume , they find noth- 
ing whatever to admire , and much to excite criticism, not t o 
^;;^ridicule. It Js-a jostulate in Oriental dress that it shal l 
be loose, and shall be draped in such a way as to conceal the 
rflBt iflM fao f t h o'bw i y. A Chinese gentleman claa m alEort 
frock would not venture to show himself in public, but num- 
bers of foreigners are continually seen in every foreign settle- 
ment in China, clad in what are appropriately styled " monkey 
Jackets." The foreign sack-coat, the double-breasted frock- 
coat (not a single button of which may be in use), and espe- 
cially the hideous and amorphous abortion called a " dress- 



lOO CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

coat," are all equally incomprehensible to the Chinese, partic- 
ularly as some of these garments do not pretend to cover the 
chest, which is the most exposed part of the body, made still 
more exposed by the unaccountable deficiencies of a vest cut 
away so as to display a strip of hnen. Every foreigner in 
China is seen to have two buttons securely fastened to the tail 
of his coat, where there is never anything to button, and where 
they are as httle ornamental as useful. 

If the dress of the male fo reign er appears to. th£L,a3ffirage 
Qui^§£^to.,,^g^sentiallj^jrrational andri^ulous,^;^j§J^^e 
fordgn ladies ,js, far more-sp. It violateft«^iBese-44eas- of 
proprie tor, not to say of decency, in a great variety of ways- 
Taken in connection with that freedom of intercourse between 
the sexes which is the accompaniment of Occidental civilisa- 
tion, it is not strange that the Chinese, who judge only from 
traditional standards of fitness, should thoroughly misunder- 
stand and grossly misconstrue what they see. 

Foreign ignoran ce of thg_Chinese lan^ag£.is,,q, fertile occa- 
sion for a feeling of superiority pn. t he part_of Jhe^ Qiingae. 
It makes no difference that a foreigner may be able to con- 
verse fluently in every language of modem Em-ope, if he can- 
not understand what is said to him by an ignorant Chinese 
coolie, the coohe will despise him in consequence. It is true 
that in so doing the coolie will only still further illustrate his 
own ignorance, but his feeling of superiority is not the less 
real on account of its inadequate basis. I Lthe fore igner is 
struggling with his environment, and endeavouring to master 
ths-laBguage-ef^liepepple, he will be'constanlly'stHng by the 
a ir of disdain with which even his own servants will remark 
i n an audible aside," Oh, he 3S£S-aQt. undstsimdj " when 
the sole obstacle to understanding lies in the turbid statement 
of the Chinese himself. But the Chinese does not recognise 
this fact, nor if he should do so would it diminish his sense of 
innate superiority. This general state of things continues in- 



CONTEMPT FOR FOREIGNERS loi 

definitely for all students of Chinese, for no matter how much 
one knows, there is always a continental area which he does 
not know. I t see ms to be a general experience, though not 
necessarily a universal one, that the foreigner iaXhiaa»j|ter 
' the preliminaiy stages of his experience are passed, gets little 
credit jpr_any thing whichjie_Kap2ensjto_know^u^^ 
credit for the things which h e does not know- The Chinese 
estimate of the value of the knowledge which foreigners dis- 
play of the Chinese language and Chinese literature is fre- 
quently susceptible of illustration by a remark of Dr. John- 
son's in regard to woman's preaching, which he declared to 
be like a dog's walking on its hind legs — it is not well done, 
but then it is a surprise to find it done at all! 

•Fnrpi^ iprnnratifp nf t\f, rnstnma nf tVi{^ (j^Viinpsp ]^""tTiP.r 

caus»- of a - -fceli titrt>f-«t&e»wa tv .„(in t h e . part Q £.,lJi£ -Chinese. _ 
That any one should be ignorant of what they have always 
known, seems to them to be almost incredible. 

The fact that a foreigner frequently does not know when 
he has been snubbed by indirect Chinese methods, leads the 
Chinese to look upon their unconscious victim with conscious 
contempt. Scornful indiiference to what " the natives " may 
think of us, brings its own appropriate and sufficient punishment. 

Many Chinese unconsciously adopt towards foreigners an 
air of amused interest, combined with depreciation, like that 
with which Mr. Littimer regarded David Copperfield, as if 
mentally saying perpetually, "So young, sir, so young!" 
This does not apply equally to all stages of one's experience 
in China, for experience accumulates more or less rapidly for 
shrewd observers, as foreigners in China are not unlikely to 
be. Still, whatever the extent of one's experience, there are 
multitudes of details, in regard to social matters, of which 
one must necessarily be ignorant for the reason that he has 
never heard of them, and there must be a first time for every 
acquisition. 



1 



102 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

IfiXeign _iriahilk)UB_do^>)feat-ft»y-M'di»ftry- Gyoese-caa.do 
with the greatest ease, leads the-Gbkiese toiookda3Ka.ajjM2a_ 
£Sj_„J!^e_ cannot eat vdiat- they jeai^jsrje .canngt..b.eat.lll£^n, 
we cannot sleep inja cipKd»ia.A.iiofee, aor mtiieH,t.mJa^ 
Ijrea^. We cannot scull one of their boats, nor can we cry 
" Yi! yi! " to one of their mule-teams in such a way that the 
animals will do anything which we desire. It is well known 
that the artillery department of the British army, on the way 
to Peking in i860, was rendered perfectly helpless near Ho- 
hsi-wu by the desertion of the.native carters, for not a man in 
the British forces was able to persuade the Chinese animals to 
take a single step ! 

Inability to conform to Chinese ideas and ideals in cere- 
mony, as well as in what we consider more important matters, 
causes the Ghineae to fe^l " thinly Higgiijspf^ rgntprnpt for a 
race- J!Bi«B4 tiieyi. tWnfe- wiH-«ot-aHd^«a«Hat-be.,iaade to under- 
Rt-gnfl "prjaf»at.y" It is not that a foreigner cannot make a 
bow, but he generally finds it hard to make a Chinese bow in 
a Chinese way, and the difficulty is as much moral as physical. 
The fe Hiign t T fculs a c o ntompt.i atL.tbe_£ode of ceremonials, 
often frivolous in their appearance, and heT ias no pati ence, 
if he has the capacity, to spend twenty minutes in a polite 
scuffle, the termination of which is foreseen by both sides with 
absolute certainty. The foreigner does not wish to spend his 
time in talking empty nothings for " an old half-day." To 
him time is money, but it is very far from being so to a Chi- 
nese, for in China jeveiy one has an abundancs.^iinie, and 
very few have any money. No Chinese has ever yet learned 
that when he kills time it is well to make certain that it is 
time which belongs to him, and not that of some one else. 

With this predisposition to dispense as much as -possible 
with superfluous ceremony because it is distasteful, and be- 
cause the time which it involves can be used more agreeably 
in other ways, it is not strange that the forggner, even in his 



CONTEMPT FOR FOREIGNERS t 103 

own eyes, makes but a poor figure in coBjpanson-wi^'a-eCTe- 
inoniousjChines^e. Compare the dress, bearings, and action 
of a Chinese official, his long, flowing robes and his graceful 
motions, with the awkward genuflections of his foreign visitor. , 
It r equires all the native politeness of the Chine se to prevent ! 
t hem from laughing o u tright at-th g-j^oatest.- In this connec- 
tion it must be noted that nnthinp r rnntrihntpj; sn f ffp^ ^fively tn 
the inst-inrtivp Chlp't'iR COTltPmpt foi .tb£JaceignecjasLJj]£-evi- 
deBt dLsregajd whial;i,4ha ^atteg-feels-leiHthgf t)fSciahdispky so 
d'^aUSJkS.Q^S^v-. W^^t must have been the inner thought 
of the Chinese who were told that they were to behold the 
" great American Emperor," and who saw General Grant in 
citizen's costume with a cigar in his mouth, walking along the 
open street? Imagine a foreign Consul, who ranks with a 
Chinese Taotai, making a journey to a provincial capital to 
interview the Governor, in order to settle an international dis- 
pute. Thousands are gathered on the city wall to watch the 
procession of the great foreign magnate, a procession which is 
found to consist of two carts and riding horses, the attendants 
of the Consul being an interpreter, a Chinese acting as mes- 
senger, and another as cook! Is it any wonder that Orien- 
tals, gazing on such a scene, should look with a curiosity 
which changes first to indifference and then to contempt ? 

The particulars in which we consider ourselves to be un- 
questionably superior to the Chinese do not make upon them 
the impression which we should expect, and which we could 
desire. They reco gP'sp thft..far-t.Jj3«*.wf>"?^wv-A«ML,-ta]jieririrs 
in, me_chanical „CQatrivaiMSfia...biit „majiy_of thes_e_contrivances 
nrp_rf;gi'irrli?d in thft licht in wtn'ch- we «he»ild.IOPjfi JJE£'I'.,fc'^ ts 
0^__sleight^f-h^nd — Piiritvwgy-Jn p vp]iV a,l^) {;, {1 ri j ijseT^Rss. Our 
results appear to them to be due to some kind of supernatural 
power, and it is remembered that Confucius refused to talk of 
magic. Hg2e4ttof£uind!j!UJiidifie£eBt~tii&JQuae£&,are~tQ. the 
w on d er s of steam and electricity practicall^jgglied, an army 




CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

of disappointed contractors who have been in China have 
discovered. With few exceptions, thf HhinrTO dn not -mih 
(though they may be forced to take) fQ]:fiigiijaadelsJat.any- 
thing whatever. They care nothing for sanitation, for ventila- 
tion, nor for physiology. They would Uke some, but by no 
means all, of the results of Western progress without submit- 
ting to Western methods, but nth^jT *hrm, S'JifrraJt:. ^ff Wfstffr"„ 
methods they will cheerfully forego the results . Whateygr 
has a direct, unmistakable tendency to make China formidahle 
as a " powef," thartil^^ant and will have , but the restJiMst 
juajt ; and if there were not a Zeitgeist, or Spirit-of-the-Age, 
superior to any Chinese, other improvements might wait long. 
Some Chinese scholars and statesmen, apparently realising the 
inferiority of China, claim that Western nations have merely 
used the data accumulated by ancient Chinese who cultivated 
mathematical and natural science to a high degree, but whose 
modem descendants have unfortunately allowed the secrets of 
nature to be stolen by the men of the West. 

The Chinese dfl_n©t- appiiar Id be much impressed byTfre~ 
"prlPUbtP'^ ability of individTial frirfignprs in prartiral lines. 
Saxons admire the man who " can," and, as Carlyle was so 
fond of remarking, they make and call him "king." The 

skill^ the fnrpjgjTPrJs^Jn jtiP- <^-^i"'^SP aTtlMSilJIg "IVJ.. ESjl^?. 
: amazing, and thpy will by PP "1Pf1"S if''"'6''*' "^ °""'t tft m%'" 

j demandsjipo n it t h e ne xt time thev chance t o want anvthing 

I (Jojje ; but so far frpmj-egarding the foreigner in this respect 

as a model for imitation, it is probable that'Bie idea'Soes'npt 

. even^ter the skull of one Chinese injen^ousand. TdTtHem 

I the ideal sch olar rntirimipg tn V.>. tti^ 1i>>.ra^ fncail w>ir. Tiat 

I l£amed.^jfeq?.thing,iQ£g9itea jQfi^ing».ta]^^ 
has hard work to keep from starvation , and with claws on his 
hands several inches in length, cannot do any one thing (ex- 
cept to teach school) by which he can keep soul and body 
together, for " the Superior Man is not a Utensil." 



CONTEMPT FOR FOREIGNERS 

Western nations, taken as a whole, do not impress educated 
Chinese with a sense of the superiority of such nations to 
China. This feeling was admirably exemplified in the reply 
of His Excellency Kuo, former Chinese Minister to Great 
Britain, when told, in answer to a question, that in Dr. Legge's 
opinion the moral condition of England is higher than that of 
China. After pausing to take in this judgment in all its bear- 
ings. His Excellency replied, with deep feeling, " I am very 
much surprised." Comparisons of this sort cannot be success- 
fully made in a superficial way, and least of all from a diplo- 
matic point of view. They involve a minute acquaintance 
with the inner life of both nations, and an ability to appre- 
ciate the operations of countless causes in the gradual multi- 
plication of effects. Into any such comparison it is far from 
being our purpose now to enter. It is now well recognised 
that the Literati of China are the chief enemies of the for- 
eigner, who, though he may have sundry mechanical mysteries 
at his disposal, is held to be wholly incapable of appreciating 
China's moral greatness. This feeling of jealous^contempt is t 
^ibodied.in-^the- typical Chinese scholar, "widi Jiis...h,ead in I 
the Sung Dynasty and. liis feet in the present." It iamen of | 
this class wha^pEepa];gd«.aBd^ put in -drciriation-the flood of/ 
bitter anti-foreign JitraatiK© with which in recent years central f 

It was once thought that with Western inventions China 
could be taken by storm. Knives, forks, stockings, and pianos 
were shipped to China from England, under the impression 
that this Empire was about to be " Europeanised." If there 
ever had been a time when the Chinese Empire was to be 
taken by storm in this way, that time would have been long 
ago, but there never was such a time. Qiinaj^jiot a^^cauji- 1 
try, and th e Chinese are not a p e ople^ to be taken by^or m 
with anything whatsoeve r. T he only way to secure the solid W 
and permanent,xespect.„QLiJi&,Ghinfias,rac.e for JVestern peo-f 



;'fo& ' CHINESE CHAR/1CTER1STICS 

pies as a whole is by convincing object lessons, showing that 
Christian civilisation in the mass and in detail accomplishes 
results which cannot be "matched by the civilisation which 
China already possesses. If this conviction cannot be pro- 
duced, the Chinese will continue, and not without reason, to 
feel and to display in all their relation to foreigners both con- 
descension and contempt. . 



CHAPTER XIII 




THE ABSENCE OF PUBLIC SPIRIT. 

THE Book of Odes, one of the most ancient of the Chinese 
Classics, contains the following prayer, supposed to be 
uttered by the husbandmen : " May it rain first on our public 
fields, and afterwards extend to our private ones." Whatever 
may have been true of the palmy days of the Chou Dynasty 
and of those which preceded it, there can be no doubt that 
very little praying is done in the present day, either by hus- 
bandmen or any other private individuals, for rain which is 
to be applied "first" on the "public fields." The Chinese 
governm ent, as we are often reminded, is patriarchal in its 
nature, and dgmaud&.filial- obedience .Jrom its. sub;lects. A 
plantation negro who had heard the saying, " Every man for 
himself, and God for us all," failed to reproduce the precise 
shade of its thought in his own modified version, as follows, 
" Every man for himself, and God for himself! " This new 
form of an old adage contains in a nutshell the substance of 
the views of the average Chinese with regard to the powers 

that be. "I, fg r_n \ y p p^ t, ""^ r,h\iQPi^ ta ^nnV■ nnt MvT mygp : i f ," 

he seems to think, if indeed he bestows any thought whatever 
on the government, and " the g overnment is old enough and 
strong enough tojakfe-carfijafitself Avithout-a^yJidp oimine." 
Tfee-gO^mSient, on the other hand, although patriarchal, is 

muchjmore__occHpiaLiaJi^^ 

/-oWniT fnr f^ip PgAr^fljck's family. Generally speaking, Jtjsall 

107 



if it 



io8 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

does nothing at first, of having to do all the more at a later 
date. The people recognise distinctly that the prgspecti ve 
lossoftaxes is thejmotiye force in _gQxgiament efforts to. mit- 
i gate disastprs siiph as the. continual niithreg,|f.^ pf ir repressib le 
rivers . What the people do for themselves in endeavouring 
to prevent calamities of this sort, is due to the instinct of self- 
preservation, for the people thus make siu^e that the work is 
done, and also escape the numberless exactions which are 
sure to be the invariable concomitants of government energy 
locally applied. 

No more typical example could be selected of the neglect 
of public affairs by the government, and the absence of public 
spirit among the people, than the condition of Chinese roads. 
There are abundant evidences in various parts of the Empire 
that there, once existed greaf-,, i mperial ^ highways connecting 
^amuai . the most important cities , and that these highways 
were j mved with sto ne and border ed wit h^.frggg, Theruing 
of such roads are found not onljrj£_die_j3sighl3ou£lio©d--of 
Peking, but in such remote '•"gipP" '^S TTun^ri ^^a c^^^>..,op 
Vast sums must have been expended on their construction, 
and it would have been comparatively easy to keep them in 
repair, but this has been uniformly neglected, so that the ruins 
of such highways present serious impediments to travel, and 
the tracks have been abandoned from sheer necessity. It 
has been supposed that this d£iajUjLihe^reatJiiies_of_t_rafBc 
took_^^ce-.d.uriB^the jQngt.^>ei3.nrl nf f|is»:'Fbf)Tif_Ff bpfnrp tlip 
cLQiSjoL-the Mia g .,.U y u a , sty , and at the beginning of the pres- 
ent Manchu Une ; but making all due allowance for political 
convulsions, a period of two hundred and fifty years is surely 
sufficiently long in which to restore the arteries of the Empire. 
No such restoration has either taken place or been attempted, 
and the consequence is the state of things with which we are 
but too familiar. 

The attitude of the government is handsomely matched by 



THE ABSENCE OF PUBLIC SPIRIT 109 

that of the people, who each and all are in the position of 
one who has no care or responsibility for what is done with 
the public property so long as he personally is not the loser. 
In fact, the very cpnceptio)i..that-a^j:oad,-or that anything, 
belongs, to -'lihe public "J| Jotally aliaiJ;aJthe £hiaese mind. 
The " streams and ni ountaja§i'Jdia£js»Jilfi»£nffiiaeX.ar£-ii]j.p- 
posedJLQ.be the, p roperty in fee yi'irJliP^''- "^ the--¥.m.pgrQT^ for thp 
taji£»^.JlM£-aBd-to-hold~ag»l©»g--a&4»e»can. The roads are 
his too, and if anything is/to be done to them let him do it. 
But the greater part of the roads do not belong to the Em- 
peror in any other sense than that in which the farms of the 
peasants belong to him, for these roads are merely narrow 
strips of farms devoted to the use of those who wish to use 
them, not with the consent of the owner of the land, for that 
was never asked, but from the force of necessity. The entire 
road belongs to some farm, and pays taxes like any other 
land, albeit the owner derives no more advantage from its 
use than does any one else. Under these circumstances, it is 
evidently the interest of the farmer to restrict the roads as 
much as he can, which he does by an extended system of 
ditches and banks designed to make it difficult for any one to 
traverse any other than the narrow strip of land which is in- 
dispensable for communication. If the heavy summer rains 
wash away a part of the farm into the road, the farmer goes 
to the road and digs his land out again, a process which, com- 
bined with natural drainage and the incessant dust-storms, 
results eventually in making the road a canal. Of what we 
mean by "right of way" no Chinese has the smallest con- 
ception. 

Travellers on the Peiho River between Tientsin and Peking 
have sometimes noticed in the river little flags, and upon 
inquiry have ascertained that they indicated the spots where 
torpedoes had been planted, and that passing boats were ex- 
pected to avoid them! A detachment of Chinese troops en- 



110 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

gaged in artillery practice has been known to train their 
cannon directly across one of the leading highways of the 
Empire, to the great interruption of traffic and to the terror 
of the animals attached to carts, the result being a serious 
runaway accident. 

A man who wishes to load or to unload his cart leaves it 
in the middle of the roadway while the process is going on, 
and whoever wishes to use the road must wait until the pro- 
cess is completed. If a farmer has occasion to fell a tree he 
allows it to fall across the road, and travellers can tarry until 
the trunk is chopped up and removed. 

The free and easy ways of the country districts are well 
matched by the encroachments upon the streets of cities. 
The wide streets of Peking are lined with stalls and booths 
which have no right of existence, and which must be sum- 
marily removed if the Emperor happens to pass that way. 
As soon as the Emperor has passed, the booths are in their 
old places. The narrow passages which serve as streets in 
most Chinese cities are choked with every form of industrial 
obstruction. The butcher, the barber, the peripatetic cook 
with his travelUng-restaurant, the carpenter, the cooper, and 
countless other workmen, plant themselves by the side of the 
tiny passage which throbs with the life of a great metropolis, 
and do all they can to form a strangulating clot. Even the 
women bring out their quilts and spread them on the road, 
for they have no space so broad in their exiguous courts. 

1 1 There is very little which the Chinese do at all which is not 

'^'at some time done on the street. 

Nor are the obstructions to traffic of a movable natiu-e only. 
The carpenter leaves a pile of huge logs in front of his shop, 
the dyer hangs up his long bohs of cloth, and the floiu'-dealer 
his strings of vermicelli across the principal thoroughfare, for 
the space opposite to the shop of each belongs not to an 
imaginary "public," but to the owner of the shop. The idea 



Itm ABSENCE OF PUBLIC SPIRIT , li», 

that this alleged ownership of the avenues of locomotion en- 
tails any corresponding duties in the way of repair, is not one 
which the Chinese mind, in its present stage of development, 
is capable of taking in at all. No one individual, even if he 
were disposed to repair a road (which would never happen), 
has the time or the material wherewith to do it, and for many 
persons to combine for this purpose would be totally out of 
the question, for each would be in deep anxiety lest he should 
do more of the work, and receive less of the benefit, than 
some other person. It would be very easy for each local 
magistrate to require the villages lying along the line of the 
main highways, or within a reasonable distance thereof, to 
keep them passable at almost all seasons, but it is doubtful 
whether this idea ever entered the mind of any Chinese 
official. 

Not only do the Chinese feel no interest in that which] 
belongs to the " public," but all such property, if unprotected! 
and available, is a mark for theft. Paving-stones are carried ! 
off for pnvgjte ugC) and square rods ofjh e brick facing to city 
wa lls gradua lly disappear. A wall enclosing a foreign ceme- 
tery in one of the ports of China was carried away till not a 
brick remained, as soon as it was discovered that the place 
was in charge of no one in particular. It is not many years 
since an extraordinary sensation was caused in the Imperial 
palace in Peking by the discovery that extensive robberies had 
been committed on the copper roofs of some of the buildings 
within the forbidden city. It is a common observation among 
the Chinese that, within the Eighteen Provinces, jhere is nO il 
one-scumpoagd.JipQa-f 'nd r hpa te d. a .' Uhp F.m per nr, 7 

The question is often raised whether the Chinese have any 
patriotism, and it is not a question which can be answered in 
a word. Thprp I'g ^inHrn^ btpHly a strn nf r na.tij3Ba1, .iflelinp. espe- i 
(aaliy.ajnong-4he"4iteiraTjrclasses,-andno tWs-fedJT^ of | 

thaij©6^ity=eKhibited to foreigners and their, iaventions is to 1 



ii2^# CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

^gjiaced-.. Within recent years the province of Hunan has 
been flooded with streams of anti-foreign literature full of 
malignant calumniations, and designed to cause riots which 
shall drive the foreign devil out of the Celestial Empire. 
From the Chinese point of view the impulse which leads to 
these publications is as praiseworthy as we should consider 
resistance to anarchists to be. The charges are partly due to 
misapprehension, and in part also to that race hatred from 
which Western nations are by no means free. Probably many 
Chinese consider these attacks thoroughly patriotic. But that 
any considerable body of Chinese are actuated by a desire to 
serve their country, because it is their country, aside from the 
prospect of emolument, is a proposition which will require 
much more proof than has yet been offered to secure its ac- 
ceptance by any one who knows the Chinese. It need not 
be remarked that a Chinese might be patriotic without taking 
much interest in the fortunes of a Tartar Djrnasty like the 
present, but there is the best reason to think that, whatever 
the dynasty might happen to be, the feeling of the mass of the 
nation would be the same as it is now — a feeling of profound 
indifference. The key-note to this view of public afiairs was 
sounded by Confucius himself, in a pregnant sentence found 
in the " Analects " : " The Master said : He who is not in an 
oflSce has no concern with plans for the administration of its 
,; duties." To our tliought these significant words are partly the 
it result, and to a very great degree the cause, of the constitu- 
^'jtional unwillingness of the Chinese to interest themselves in 
^inatters for which they are in no way responsible. 

M. Hue gives an excellent example of this spirit. "In 
1851, at the period of the death of the Emperor Tao Kuang, 
we were travelling on the road from Peking, and one day 
when we had been taking tea at an inn, in company with 
some Chinese citizens, we tried to get up a little political dis- 
cussion. We spoke of the recent death of the Emperor, an 



THE ABSENCE OF PUBLIC SPIRIT 

Important event which of course must have interested every- 
body. We expressed our anxiety on the subject of the suc- 
cession to the Imperial throne, the heir to which was not yet 
publicly declared. 'Who knows,' said we, 'which of the three 
sons of the Emperor will have been appointed to succeed 
him? If it should be the eldest, will he pursue the same sys- 
tem of government? If the younger, he is still very young, 
and it is said that there are contrary influences, two opposing 
parties at court; to which will he lean? ' We put forward, 
in short, all kinds of hypotheses, in order to stimulate these 
good citizens to make some observation. But they hardly 
listened to us. We came back again and again to the charge, 
in order to elicit some opinion or other on questions that really 
appeared to us of great importance. But to all our piquant 
suggestions they replied by shaking their heads, puffing out 
whiffs of smoke, and taking great gulps of tea. This apathy 
was really beginning to provoke us, when one of these worthy 
Chinese, getting up from his seat, came and laid his two hands 
on our shoulders in a manner quite paternal, and said, smiling 
rather ironically : ' Listen to me, my friend ! Why should you/ 
trouble your heart and fatigue your head by all these vain 
surmises? The mandarins have to attend to affairs of state ; 
they are paid for it. Let them earn their money, then. But 
don't let us torment ourselves about what does not concern 
us. We should be great fools to want to do political business 
for nothing.' ' That is very conformable to reason,' cried the 
rest of the company ; and thereupon they pointed out to us 
that our tea was getting cold and our pipes were out." 

When it is remembered that in the attack on Peking, in 
i860, the British army was furnished with mules bought of 
the Chinese in the province of Shantung ; that Tientsin and 
Tungchow made capitulations on their own account, agreeing 
to provide the British and French with whatever was wanted 
if these cities were not disturbed; that most indispensable 



w 



CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 



coolie work was done for the foreign allies by Chinese subjects 
hired for the purpose in Hongkong; and that when these 
same coolies were captured by the Chinese army they were 
sent back to the British ranks with their tues cut off — ^it is not 
difficult to perceive that patriotism and public spirit, if such 
things exist at all in China, do not mean what these words 
imply to Anglo-Saxons. 

- Upon the not infrequent occasions when it is necessary for 
the people to rise and resist the oppressions and exactions of 
their rulers, it is always indispensable that there should be a 
few men of capacity to take the lead. Under them the move- 
ment may gather such momentum that the government must 
make some practical concessions. But whatever it does with 
the mass of the "stupid people,'' the leaders are invariably 
marked men, and nothing less than their heads will satisfy the 
demands of justice. To be willing not merely to risk but 
almost certainly to lose one's life in such a cause is the highest 
possible example of public spirit. 

At critical epochs in Chinese history, especially when there 
is likely to be a change of dynasties, single-hearted and reso- 
lute men have often thrown themselves into the breach, with 
a chivalrous devotion to the cause which they espoused worthy 
of the highest praise. Such men are not only true patriots, 
but are irrefragable proofs that the Chinese are capable of 
being stirred to the most heroic exertions in following public- 

Sspirited leaders. 



CHAPTER XIV, 




CONSERVATISM. 

IT is trae of the Chinese, to a greater degree than of any 
other nation in history, that thfiirJdolden-Age is in the 
^a§t. The sages of antiquity themselves spoke with the deep- 
est reverence of more ancient " ancients." Confucius declared 
_&atJifijwas--Bot-an originator, but a transmitter. It was his 
mission to gather up what had once been known, but long 
neglected or misunderstood. It was his painstaking fidelity 
in accomplishing this task, as well as the high abihty which he 
brought to it, that gave the Master his extraordinary hold upon 
the people of his race. It is h is relatiorLXo-the-past, as-jauch 
, as the q najit^jjf what he taught, that constitutes the .claim of 
' CoEfHSM-tSJllS front rank of holjrjnen. It is the Confucian 
' '•'hpoTy "^^ Tnr>rq]<^ that a grind ruler wiU..-irvak<>^^-gT)F>d- people. 
The prince is the dish, the people are the water ; if the dish is 
round, the water is roimd, if the dish is square, the water will 
I be square also. Upon this theory, it is nflt_atrsnge that all 
I tbe,.lirtues_ais.i'eUeYe^ .to. hay:e- flourished in th« days when 
( model rulers existed . The most ignorant coolie will upon 
occasion remind us that in the days of " Yao and Shun " there 
was no necessity for closing the doors at night, for there were 
no thieves ; and that if an article was lost on the highway it 
was the duty of the first comer to stand as a nominal guard 
over it until the next one happened along, who took his turn 
until the owner arrived, who always found his property per- 
fectly intact. It is a ^""'"'"" c!.ymgr ^]^^i the prp.sent is infe. 




ii6 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

^^ . . 

rinr to the past in th e, items of benevolence and lustice : but 

that^jdolati©«s^<rf'-e0asde»ee-<h©-past"«aBHOt-Luniptt(i with 

tlig. present 

This tendency to depreciate the present time is by no means 

confined to China or to the Chinese, but is found with impar- 

tiahty all over the earth ; yet in the Celestial Empire it seems 

to have attained a sincerity of conviction not elsewhere 

equalled. AH that is best .in, th e ancient days is believed to 

have survived jn \}a.t l iterature to which the present^ajjsjhe 

"and it is for this reason tliat "this litera ture is regarded 



T KJth such unmixed idolatry . The orthodox Chinese view o f 
the- ^hine D fr -€fa3Ste»" a{> p ear -8 =-t^"fee°m«dt.Ubfe...«uae.^as_tiie 
MrthndnK Chr4^iat^vi@«c-iau£gMd_toJh£Hefaew Scri ptu^^^^ 

they are supposed to ''f^^^^^^J^.^h^l}^!^^^-^-^^^^''*^^'^^^' 
wisdomof Jhe. pastj and to contaiii gll tl^at i s equally adapted . 
to the present J iiT"^ and tn the dfliys .^f 9)^- That anything is 
needed to supplement the Chinese Classics is no more believed 
by a good Confucianist, than it is believed by a good Chris- 
tian that supplementary additions to the Bible are desirable or 
to be expected. Both Christians and Confucianists agree in 
I the general proposition that whenjjiiag.is-as.-geed-a(9-ife"€aa 
Ib ej^it is i dle to try to make itaayjjgtter. 

Just as many good Christians make some Bible " text " a 
pretext for something which the biblical writers never had in 
fmind, so C onfucian s cholars ^yg npftT? ftffasinn ahl^ tn find in 

(c€£^n|g_of. the goveEameBty . Ja u t^ .tba-c eaA -g eet s-gf-andent 
t giathematifs , and fyf^ »f-TYinr[prTi ir'T"" 

The literature of antiquity is that which has moulded the 
Chinese nation, and has brought about a system of government 
which, whatever its other quahties, has been proved to possess 
that of persistence. Since self-preservation is the first law of 
nations as of individuals, it is not singular that a form of rule 
which an experience of unmatched duration has shown to be 



CONSERVATISM i 11'] 

so well adapted to its end should have come to be regarded 
with a reverence akin to that felt for the Classics. It would 
be a curious discovery if some learned student of Chinese 
history should succeed in ascertaining and explaining the pro- 
cesses by which the Chinese government came to be what it 
is. If ever those processes should be discovered; we think it 
certain that it will then be clearly seen why there have been 
in China so few of those interior revolutions to which all other 
peoples have been subject. There is a story of a man who 
built a stone wall six feet wide and only four feet high, and 
on being asked his reasons for so singular a proceeding, he 
replied that it was his purpose that when the wall blew over, 
it should be higher than it was before! The C hinese govern - 
ment is by no mi^ aTig inf^apablf ^ of being blo wn over, but it is 
a,£ubej_and whenitca psizes, it si rgply fqj)s npnri snmp other 
face, and to external appearance , as well ^s^ to interior sub- 

st^.r)rp, is thp samp f.Via.t it has filwaya heen. Repeated expe-l 

rience of this process has taught the Chinese that this result is 
as certain as that a cat will fall upon its feet, and the convic- 
tion is accompanied by a most implicit faith in the divine wis- 
dom of those who planned and built so wisely and so well, 
'^ouguggestimprovements would bg^thfi-rankeatJafiresy. Hence 
it has come about that the unquestioned superiority of the 
ancients rests upon the firm basis of the recognised inferiority 
of those who come after them. 

With these consideration s clearly in min d, it is not difficult 
^:o perceiv a. the ■»w<few!S^'-ef-wbarfe- se©nas-^«at«£isl;»..flie_blind 
and obstina t^^tiberenge qf jtjjg. QJyRS^,.i2..i}l£_;j^^S-^-^^ 
East . To the Chinese, as to the ancient Romans, manners^aM 
njLQioL aio ii'ilcfchfliifeLublo iolniis, for they have thFsajme root 
and arejn, jheiiuessenrfi idantiraL To the Chinese an inva- 
sion of their customs is an invasion of the regions which are 
most sacred. It is not necessary for this effect that the cus- 
toms should be apprehended in their ultimate relations, or in- 



ii8, CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

deed, strictly speaking, apprehended at all. They are resolutely 
defended by an instinct similar to that which leads a she-bear 
to protect her cubs. This is not a Chinese instinct merely, but 
it belongs to human nature. It has been profoundly remarked 
that millions of men are ready to die for a faith which they 
do not comprehend, and by the tenets of which they do not 
regulate their lives. 

Chinese customs, like the Chinese language, have become 
established in some way to us unknown. Customs, like human 
speech, once established resist change. But the conditions 
under which Chinese customs and language crystallised into 
shape are in no two places exactly the same. Hence we have 
those perplexing variations of usage indicated in the common 
proverb that customs differ every ten miles. Hence, too, we 
have the bewildering dialects. When once the custom or the 
dialect has become fixed, it resembles plaster-of- Paris which 
has set, and while it may be broken, it cannot be changed. 
This, at least, is the theory, but, like other theories, it must be 
made sufficiently elastic to suit the facts, which are that no 
mere custom is necessarily immortal, and, given certain con- 
ditions, a change can be effected. 

No better illustration of this truth could be given than one 
drawn from the experience of the present dynasty in intro- 
ducing an entirely new style of tonsure among their Chinese 
subjects. It was inevitable that such a conspicuous and tan- 
gible mark of subjection should have been bitterly resisted, 
even to the death, by great numbers of the Chinese. But the 
Manchus showed how well they were fitted for the high task 
which they had undertaken, by their persistent adherence to 
the requirement, compliance with which was made at once a 
sign and a test of loyalty. The result is what we see. The 
Chinese people are now more proud of their cues than of any 
other characteristic of their dress, and the rancorous hostility 
to the edict of the Manchus survives only in the turbans of 



CONSERV/ITISM { 119 



the natives of the provinces of Canton and Fukien, coverings 
once adopted to hide the national disgrace. 

The introduction of the Buddhist religion into China was 
accomplished only at the expense of a warfare of the most 
determined character ; but once thoroughly rooted, it appears 
as much hke a native as Taoism, and not less difficult to 
supplant. 

to-perceive that, it ,i s the ^i jid ^rlppg- ass i irnptinn -lhaL-wJi^tever 
'iii ia ri's^ Thus a long-established usage is a tyranny. Of 
the countless individuals who conform to the custom, not one 
is at all concerned with the origin or the reason of the acts. 
His business is to conform, and he conforms. The degree of 
religious faith in different parts of the Empire doubtless differs 
widely, but nothing can be more certain than that all the rites 
of the " three religions " are performed by millions who are as 
destitute of anything which ought to be called faith, as they 
are of an acquaintance with Egyptian hieroglyphics. To any | 
irwTiTJTYfl g to tVip r eas on for any partic ular act of religious? 

I2ll!ln?,-T'"*^^'"g '" ynnre- rnmmnn than tn rectWAwr^-mT^aTTswprft -.l 

^i^jTstj^ jhat_J}i£jsJ;Ql& ,bu§ijj^s^o£communication with the 
godshas been handed down from the ancienfs, and mustl 
therefore be oiTTHe'fifmesf "possible basis ; the second, that! 
"everybody" does so, and -therefore the person in question; 
.wwj/ conform- la China the machinery moYes the cogs, and" 
jtot the cogs the ma AJQs ry. While this CQntinuMjobeal- 
v fflys and everywhere true, it is also true that the rnerest sheir 
of conform ii3Lis..alLthaLis demanded. 

It is a custom in Mongolia for every one who can afford it 
to use snuff, and to offer it to his friends. Every one is pro- 
vided with a little snuff-box, which he produces whenever hel 
encounters a friend. If the person with the snuff-box hap- 
pens to be out of snuff, that does not prevent the passing of^ 
the snuff-box, of which each guest takes a deliberate, though 



r2of CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

an imaginary pinch, and returns the box to its owner. To seem 
to notice that the box is empty would not be " good form," 
but by compliance with the proper usages the " face " of the 
host is saved, and aU is according to well-settled precedent. 
In many important particulars it is not otherwise with the 
Chinese. The life may have long departed, but there remains 
ithe coral reef, the avenues to which, in order to avoid ship- 
wreck, must be diligently respected. 

The fixed resolution to do certain acts in certain ways, and 
in no other, is not peculiar to China. The coolies in India 
habitually carried burdens upon their heads, and applied the 
same principle to the removal of earth for railways. When 
the contractors substituted wheelbarrows, the coolies merely 
transferred the barrows to the tops of their skulls. The coolies 
in Brazil carry burdens in the same way as those of India. A 
foreign gentleman in the former country gave a servant a letter 
to be posted, and was surprised to see him put the letter on 
his head and weight it with a stone to keep it in place. The 
exact similarity of mental processes reveals a similarity of 
cause, and it is a cause very potent in Chinese affairs. It 
leads to those multiplied instances of imitativeness with which 
we are all so familiar, as when the cook breaks an egg and 
throws it away each time that he makes a pudding, because 
on the first occasion when he was shown how to make a pud- 
ding an egg happened to be bad ; or when the tailor puts a 
patch on a new garment because an old one given him as a 
measure chanced to be thus decorated. Stories of this sort 
are doubtless often meant as harmless exaggerations of a 
Chinese characteristic, but they represent the reality with great 
fideUty. 

Every one acquainted with Chinese habits will be able to 
adduce instances of a devotion to precedent which seems to 
us unaccountable, and which really is so until we apprehend 
the postulate which underlies the act. In a country which 



CONSERy/ITISM 1 2 1 

Stretches through some twenty-five degrees of latitude, but in 
which winter furs are taken off and straw hats are put on 
according to a fixed rule for the whole Empire, it would be 
strange if precedent were not a kind of divinity. In regions 
where the only heat in the houses during the cold winter 
comes from the scanty fire under the " stove-bed," or k'ang, 
it is not uncommon for travellers who have been caught in a 
sudden " cold snap " to find that no arguments can induce the 
landlord of the inn to heat the k'ang, because the season for 
heating it has not arrived! 

The r gluctance of Chin^ e_ ^ificers to ad opt_new methods 

is SUfSci ^tly W^^ Vnawn-tn jll^ hut perha-pa-ja-y. t^ypri pf thgg," 

conservativ es_are niore^ conseDiative. -t]ma_Jthe__h£ajLofJJlie 
CQnip.ajiy.jQLTsm]imeiueMiplfl^i£d-tQJiiu3^ 
with all that appertained ^jhexeter-wa»-rite-fiF^>eily_af Jsr^gB- 
,ers and not o f those who woricgdit- As there was occasion to 
use a kind of square bricks larger than those which happened 
to be in fashion in that region, the foreigner ordered larger 
ones to be made. All that was necessary for this purpose 
was simply the preparation of a wooden tray, the size of the 
required brick, to be used as a mould. When the bricks were 
wantgdJhey- were, no t ioc t b GOiBing, and the foreman, to whom 
the orders had been given, being called to account for his 
neglect, refused to be a party to any such innovation, adducing 
as his all-sufficient reason the affirmatio n that unJj^r the. ijihoJi^ 

The bearing of the subject of conservatism upon the rela- 
tion of foreigners to China and the Chinese is not likely to be 
lost sight of for a moment by any one whose lot is cast in 
China, and who has the smallest interest in the futiu-e welfare 
of this mighty Empire. The last quarter of the nineteenth 
century seems destined to be a critical period in Chinese his- 
tory. A great deal of very new wine is offered to the Chinese, 
who have no other provision for its reception than a varied 




CHINESE CHAR/ICTERISTICS 

assortment of very old wine-skins. Thanks to the instinctive 
conservatism of the Chinese nature, very httle of the new wine 
has thus far been accepted, and, for that little, new bottles are 
in course of preparation. 

The present attitude of China towards the lands of the 
West is an attitude of procrastination. There is on the one 
hand small desire for that which is new, and upon the other 
no desire at all, or even wiUingness, to give up the old. As 
we see ancient mud huts, that ought long ago to have reverted 
to their native earth, shored up with clumsy mud piUars which 
but postpone the inevitable fall, so we behold old customs, old 
superstitions, and old faiths now outworn, propped up and 
made to do the same duty as heretofore. " If4jie_oWdoes 
f not go, the new does not_£omej^^_e arejddj_and not without 
truth._ The process o f change from the one to the other may 
long be£Misled, and may then comTabouTiuHHenly. 

At a tiniewKen^it was first proposed "to introduce tele- 
graphs, the Governor-General of a maritime province reported 
to the Emperor that the hostihty of the people to the innova- 
tion was so great that the wires could not be put up. But 
when war with France was imminent, and the construction of 
the line was placed upon an entirely different basis, the pro- 
vincial authorities promptly set up the telegraph posts, and 
saw that they were respected. 

Not many years ago the superstition oifing-shui was be- 
lieved by many to be an almost insuperable obstacle to the 
introduction of railways in China. The very first short line, 
constructed as an oudet for the K'ai-p'ing coal mines, passed 
through a large Chinese cemetery, the graves being removed 
to make way for it, as they would have been in England or in 
France. A single inspection of that bisected graveyard was 
sufficient to produce the conviction \hz.tfeng-shui could never 
stand before an engine, when the issue is narrowed down to 
a trial of strength between " wind-water " and steam. The 




< 

>- 






CONSERVATISM 123 

experience gained in the subsequent extension of this initial 
fine shows clearly that however financial considerations may 
delay the introduction of railways, g eomantic superstitions are 
for this purpose quite inert. 

The union of the conservative instinct with the capacity for 
invasion of precedents is visible in important Chinese affairs. 
In China no principle is better settled than that, when one of 
his parents dies, an official must retire from office. Yet 
against his repeated and " tearful " remonstrances, the most 
powerful subject in the Empire was commanded by the 
Throne to continue his attention to the intricate details of the 
most important plexus of duties to be found in the Empire, 
through all the years of what should have been mourning 
retirement after the death of his mother. No principle would 
seem to be more firmly established in China than that a father 
is the superior of his son, who must always do him reverence. 
Equally well established is the principle that the Emperor is 
superior to all his subjects, who must always do Aim rever- 
ence. When, therefore, as at the last change of rulers, it hap- 
pens that from a collateral line is adopted a young Emperor 
whose father is still living, it would appear to be inevitable 
that the father must either commit suicide, or go into a per- 
manent retirement. Such, it was supposed when Kuang Hsu 
ascended the throne, would actually be the end of Prince 
Ch'un. Yet during the illness of the latter, his son, the Em- 
peror, made repeated calls upon his subordinate-superior, the 
father ; and some modus vivendi was arrived at, since this same 
father until his death held important offices under his son. 

As already remarked, th e .-f^nservative instinct leads the 
Chinese to attach und ue importance to^prece^ent: — But rightly 
"uuiduslUUd' and cautiously used, this is a great safeguard for 
foreigners in their dealings with so sensitive, so obstinate, and 
so conservative a people. It is only necessary to imitate the 
Chinese method, to take things for granted, to assume the 



124 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

existence of rights which have not been expressly withheld, to 
defend them warily when they are assailed, and by all means to 
hold on. Thus, as in the case of the right of foreign residence 
in Peking, the right of foreign residence in the interior, and in 
many others, wise conservatism is the safest defence. The 
threatening reef which seemed so insuperable a barrier to navi- 
gation, once penetrated, offers upon the inner side a lagoon 
of peace and tranquiUity, safe from the storms and breakers 
which vainly beat against it. 




CHAPTER XV. 

INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE. 

IN what we have now to say, it must be premised at the 
outset that all that is affirmed of Chinese indifference to 
comfort and convenience respects not Oriental but Occidental 
standards, the principal object being to show how totally 
different_tho.se st-awdar-ds-are. 

Let us first direct our attention for a moment to the Chinese 
dress. In speaking of Chinese contempt for foreigners, we 
have already had occasion to mention that Western modes of 
apparel have very little which is attractive to the Chinese; 
we are now forced to admit that the converse is equally true. 
To us it certainly appears singular that a great nation should 
become reconciled to such an unnatural custom as shaving 
off the entire front part of the head, leaving that exposed 
which nature evidently intended should be protected. But 
since the Chinese were driven to adopt this custom at the 
point of the sword, and since, as already remarked, it has be- 
come a sign and a test of loyalty, it need be no further noticed 
in this connection than to call attention to the undoubted fact 
that the Chinese themselves do not recognise any discomfort 
from the practice, and would probably be exceedingly unwill- 
ing to revert to the Ming Dynasty tonsure. 

The same considerations do not apply to the Chinese habit 
of going bareheaded at almost all seasons of the year, and 
especially in summer. The whole nation moves about in the 
blistering heats of the summer months holding one arm aloft. 

125 



iz6 CHINESE CH/IRACTERISTICS 

with an open fan held at such an angle as to obstruct a por- 
tion of the rays of the sun. Those who at any part of their 
lives hold an umbrella in their hands to ward off heat, must 
constitute but a small part of the population. While men do 
often wear hats upon certain provocation, Chinese women, so 
far as we have observed, have no other kind of head-dress 
than that which, however great its failure viewed from the un- 
sympathetic Western standpoint, is intended to be ornamental. 
One of the very few requisites for comfort, according to Chi- 
nese ideas, is a fan, — that is to say, in the season when it is 
possible to use such an accessory to comfort. It is not un- 
common in the summer to see coolies, almost or quite devoid 
of clothing, struggling to track a heavy salt-junk up-stream, 
vigorously fanning themselves meanwhile. Even beggars 
frequently brandish broken fans. 

It is one of the unaccountable phenomena of Chinese civil- 
isation that this people, which is supposed to have been orig- 
inally pastoral, and which certainly shows a high degree of 
ingenuity in making use of the gifts of nature, has never learned 
to weave wool in such a way as to employ it as clothing. The 
only exceptions to this general statement of which we are 
aware relate to the western parts of the Empire, where, to a 
certain extent, woollen fabrics are manufactured. But it is 
most extraordinary that the art of making such goods should 
not have become general, in view of the great numbers of 
sheep which are to be seen, especially in the mountainous 
regions. 

It is believed that in ancient times, before cotton was intro- 
duced, garments were made of some other vegetable fibres, 
such as rushes. However this may be, it is certain that the 
nation as a whole is at present absolutely dependent upon 
cotton. In those parts of the Empire where the winter cold 
is severe, the people wear an amount of wadded clothing 
almost sufficient to double the bulk of their bodies. A child 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT yIND CONVENIENCE 127 

clad in this costume, if he happens to fall down, is often as 
utterly unable to rise as if he had been strapped into a cask. 
Of the discomfort of such clumsy dress we never hear the 
Chinese complain. The discomfort is in the want of it. It 
is certain, however, that no Anglo-Saxon would willingly tol- 
wate the disabilities of such an attire, if he could by any pos- 
sibility be relieved of it. 

In connection with the heavy clothing of winter must be 
mentioned the total lack of any kind of underclothing. To 
us it seems difficult to support existence without woollen un- 
dergarments, frequently changed. The Chinese are conscious 
of no such need. Their burdensome wadded clothes hang 
around their bodies Uke so many bags, leaving yawning spaces 
through which the cold penetrates to the flesh, but they do 
not mind this circumstance, although ready to admit that it is 
not ideal. An old man of sixty-six, who complained that his 
circulation was torpid, was presented with a foreign undershirt, 
but told to keep it on every day, to avoid taking cold. A day 
or two later it was ascertained that he had taken it off, as he 
was " roasted to death." 

Chinese shoes are made of cloth, and are always porous, 
absorbing moisture on the smallest provocation. Whenever 
the weather is cold this keeps the feet more or less chilled all 
the time. The Chinese, have, indeed, a kind of oiled boots 
which are designed to keep out the dampness, but, like many 
other conveniences, on account of the expense, the use of them 
is restricted to a very few. The same is true of umbrellas as 
a protection against rain. They are luxuries, and are by no 
means regarded as necessities. Chinese who are obliged to 
be exposed to the weather do not as a rule think it important, 
certainly not necessary, to change their clothes when they 
have become thoroughly wet, and do not seem to find the in- 
convenience of allowing their garments to dry upon them at 
all a serious one. While the Chinese admire foreign gloves. 



128 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

they have none of their own, and while clumsy mittens are not 
unknown, even in the extreme north they are rarely seen. 

One of the most annoying characteristics of Chinese cos- 
tume, as seen from the foreign standpoint, is the absence of 
pockets. The average Westerner requires a great number of 
these to meet his needs. He demands breast-pockets in his 
coats for his memorandum books, pockets behind for his hand- 
kerchiefs, pockets in his vest for pencil, tooth-pick, etc., as 
well as for his watch, and in other accessible positions for the 
accommodation of his pocket-knife, his bunch of keys, and 
his wallet. If the foreigner is also provided with a pocket- 
comb, a folding foot-rule, a cork-screw, a boot-buttoner, a 
pair of tweezers, a minute compass, a folding pair of scissors, 
a pin-ball, a pocket mirror, and a fountain pen, it will not 
mark him out as a singular exception to his race. Having 
become accustomed to the constant use of these articles, he 
cannot dispense with them. The Chinese, on the other hand, 
has few or none of such things ; if he were presented with 
them he would not know where to put them. If he has a 
handkerchief it is thrust into his bosom, and so also is a child 
which he may have to carry around. If he has a paper of 
some importance, he carefuUy unties the strap which confines 
his trousers to his ankle, inserts the paper, and goes on his 
way. If he wears outside drawers, he simply tucks in the 
paper without untying anything. In either case, if the band 
loosens without his knowledge, the paper is lost — a constant 
occurrence. Other depositaries of such articles are the folds 
of the long sleeves when turned back, the crown of a turned- 
up hat, or the space between the cap and the head. Many 
Chinese make a practice of ensuring a convenient, although a 
somewhat exiguous, supply of ready money, by always stick- 
ing a cash in one ear. The main dependence for security 
of articles carried, is the girdle, to which a small purse, the to- 
bacco pouch and pipe, and similar objects, are attached. If 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE 129 

the girdle should work loose, the articles are liable to be lost. 
Keys, moustache-combs, and a few ancient cash are attached 
to some prominent button of the jacket, and each removal of 
this garment involves care-taking to prevent the loss of the 
appendages. 

If the daily dress of the ordinary Chinese seems to us objec- 
tionable, his nocturnal costume is at least free from criticism 
on the score of complexity, for he simply strips to the skin, 
wraps himself in his quilt, and sleeps the sleep of the just. 
Night-dress he or she has none. It is indeed recorded that 
Confucius "required his sleeping-dress to be half as long 
again as his body." It is supposed, however, that the refer- 
ence in this passage is to a robe which the Master wore when 
he was fasting, and not to an ordinary night-dress ; but it is 
at all events certain that modem Chinese do not imitate him 
in his night-robe, and do not fast if they can avoid it. Even 
new-bom babes, whose skins are exceedingly sensitive to 
the least changes of temperature, are carelessly laid under 
the bedclothes, which are thrown back whenever the mother 
wishes to exhibit the infant to spectators. The sudden chill 
which this absurd practice occasions, is thought by competent 
judges to be quite sufficient to account for the very large 
number of Chinese infants who, before completing the first 
month of their existence, die in convulsions. When children 
have grown larger, instead of being provided with diapers, 
they are in some regions clad in a pair of bifurcated bags 
partly filled with sand or earth, the mere idea of which is 
sufficient to fill the breast of tender-hearted Western mothers 
with horror. Weighted with these strange equipments, the 
poor child is at first rooted to one spot like the frog which 
was "loaded" with buck-shot. In the particular districts 
where this custom prevails, it is common to speak of a person 
who exhibits small practical knowledge, as one who has not 
yet been taken out of his " earth-trousers "! 



130 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

Chinese indifference to what we mean by comfort is exhib- 
ited as much in their houses as in their dress. In order to 
establish this proposition, it is necessary to take account not of 
the dwellings of the poor, who are forced to exist as they can, 
but rather of the habitations of those whose circumstances 
enable them to do as they please. The Chinese do not care 
for the shade of trees about their houses, but much prefer 
poles covered with mats. Those who are unable to afford 
such a luxury, however, and who might easily have a grateful 
shade-tree in their courtyard, do not plant anything of this 
sort, but content themselves with pomegranates or some other 
merely ornamental shrubs. When, owing to the fierce heat, 
the yard is intolerable, the occupants go and sit in the street, 
and when that is insufferable they retire to their houses again. 
Few houses have a north door opposite the main entrance 
on the south side. Such an arrangement wotdd produce a 
draught, and somewhat diminish the miseries of the dog-days. 
When asked why such a convenience is not more common, 
the frequent reply is that " We do not have north doors! " 

North of the thirty-seventh parallel of latitude, the common ' 
sleeping-place of the Chinese is the k'ang, a raised "brick- 
bed " composed of adobe bricks, and heated by the fire used 
for cooking. If there happens to be no fire, tlie cold earth 
appears to a foreigner the acme of discomfort. If the fire 
happens to be too great, he wakes in the latter part of the 
night, feeling that he is undergoing a process of roasting. In 
any event, the degree of heat will not be continuous through- 
out the night. The whole family is huddled together on this 
terrace. The material of which it is composed becomes in- 
fested with insects, and even if the adobe bricks are annually 
removed there is no way to secure immunity from these un- 
welcome guests, which are fixed occupants of the walls of all 
classes of dwellings. 

Other universally prevalent animal infestations there are, 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT /IND CONVENIENCE 131 

with which most Chinese are very familiar, but there are few 
who seem to regard parasites as a preventable evil, even if they 
are recognised as an evil at all. The nets which are used to 
keep winged torments at bay, are beyond the means of all but 
a small proportion even of the city population, and, so far as 
we know, are rarely heard of elsewhere. Sand-flies and mos- 
quitoes are indeed felt to be a serious nuisance, and occasion- 
ally faint efforts are made to expel them by burning aromatic 
weeds, but such pests do not annoy the Chinese a thousandth 
part as much as they annoy us. 

One of the typical instances of different standards of com- 
fort is in the conception of what a pillow ought to be. In 
Western lands, a pillow is a bag of feathers adjusted to sup- 
port the head. In China a pillow is a support for the neck, 
either a small stool of bamboo, a block of wood, or more com- 
monly a brick. No Occidental could use a Chinese pillow in 
a Chinese way without torture, and it is not less certain that 
no Chinese would tolerate under his head for ten minutes the 
bags which we use for that purpose. 

We have spoken of the singular fact that the Chinese do 
not to any extent weave wool. It is still more unaccotmtable 
that they take no apparent interest in the feathers which they 
pluck in such vast quantities from the fowls which they con- 
sume. It would be exceedingly easy to make up wadded 
bedding by employing feathers, and the cost of the feathers 
would be little or nothing, since they are allowed to blow 
away as beneath the notice even of the strict economy of 
the Chinese. Yet, aside from sale to foreigners, we do not 
know of any use to which such feathers are at present put, ex- 
cept that the larger ones are loosely tied to sticks to serve as 
dusters, and in western China, feathers are sometimes thickly 
sprinkled on growing wheat and beans, to prevent their being 
eaten by animals turned out to forage for themselves. 

To an Occidental the ideal bed is at once elastic and firm. 



132 CHINESE CHAR/iCTERJSTlCS 

The best example of such is perhaps that made from what is 
known as woven wire, which in recent years has come into 
such general use. But when one of the finest hospitals in 
China was furnished with these luxurious appliances, the kind- 
hearted physician who had planned for them was disgusted to 
find that, as soon as his back was turned, those patients who 
were strong enough to do so crawled from their elastic beds 
down upon the floor, where they felt at home! 

Chinese houses are nearly always ill-lighted at night. The 
native vegetable oils are exceedingly disagreeable to the smell, 
and only afford sufficient illumination to make darkness visi- 
ble. The great advantages of kerosene are indeed recognised, 
but in spite of them it is still true that throughout enormous 
areas the oil made from beans, cotton-seed, and peanuts con- 
tinues to be used long after kerosene has been known, simply 
from the force of conservative inertia, backed by profound in- 
difference to the greater comfort of being able to see clearly, 
as compared with being able to see scarcely at all. 

Chinese furniture strikes a Westerner as being clumsy and 
uncomfortable. Instead of the broad benches on which our 
ancestors used to recline, the Chinese are generally content 
with very narrow ones, and it will not be surprising if some of 
the legs are loose, or are so placed as to tip off the unwary 
person who seats himself when there is no one at the other 
end. The Chinese are the only Asiatic nation using chairs, 
but according to oiur ideas Chinese chairs are models of dis- 
comfort. Some of them are made on a pattern which pre- 
vailed in England in the days of Queen Elizabeth or Queen 
Anne, tall, straight of back, and inordinately angular. The 
more common ones are shaped so as to accommodate persons 
who weigh about two hundred and fifty povmds, but the 
strength of the chairs is by no means proportioned to the 
magnitude, and they soon fall to pieces. 

The greatest objections which Westerners have to Chinese 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE i33 

dwellings are undoubtedly the dampness and the cold. The 
radical error in the construction of buildings, is that which 
economises in the foundation. The inevitable and permanent 
result is dampness. Floors of earth or of imperfectly burned 
brick are to most foreigners not only sources of great discom- 
fort, but are extremely prejudicial to health. Not less annoy- 
ing are the loose doors, resting on pivots. The double leaves 
of these doors admit the cold air at each side at the top and 
at the bottom. Even if the cracks are pasted up with stout 
paper, a door is but an imperfect protection against the bitter 
winter weather, because it is almost impossible to teach Chinese 
to keep an outside door shut. The notice which a business 
man posted on his office door, " Everybody shuts the doors 
but you," would be a gross falsehood in China, where nobody 
shuts a door. The frames of doors, both to houses and to 
yards, are often made so low that a person of average stature 
must at each passage either bow his head or bump it. 

Chinese paper windows will not keep out wind, rain, sun, 
heat, or dust. Window-shutters are not v^ry common, and 
when they exist are often unused. 

Most Chinese houses have only one cooking-boiler, a large 
concave iron bowl, with a capacity of several gallons. But 
one kind of food is generally cooked at a time, and when a 
meal is in preparation hot water is not to be had. The stalks 
and grass which are the fuel must be incessantly pushed under 
the low kettle by a person squatting or sprawling in front 
of the small flue. Almost all cooking is done in this way. 
Steam and often smoke fill the room to an extent adapted to 
blind and strangle a foreigner, but the Chinese seem to be in- 
different to these evils, although aware that serious diseases 
of the eye are a common consequence. 

A Chinese dwelling in winter always appears to a Westerner 
a thesaurus of discomfort, on account of the absence of arti- 
ficial heat. The vast majority of the people, even where the 



134 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

winters are severe, have no other heat than that modicum 
obtained from the fuel burned in cooking, and conveyed to 
the k'ang. The Chinese so highly appreciate the comfort of 
a k'ang that the v^omen sometimes speak of it as their " own 
mother." But while it is indeed the point of minimum dis- 
comfort in the estabhshment, to Occidentals who wish to feel 
positive heat from some source diffusing itself in grateful cur- 
rents all over the body, a Chinese k'ang on a cold night is a 
very inadequate substitute for the " chimney-corner " or for 
the stove. In regions where coal is accessible, it is indeed 
employed as fuel, but as compared with the whole country 
these districts are very hmited, and the smoke always escapes 
into the room, which becomes gradually filled with carbonic 
acid gas. Charcoal is very sparingly used even by those who 
are in good circumstances, and the danger from its incautious 
use, like that from the use of coal, is very great. The houses 
are so uncomfortable that even at home if the weather is cold 
the inmates often wear all the clothes they can put on. When 
abroad they have no more to add. " Are you cold ? " we ask 
them. " Of course," is the constant reply. They have never 
been artificially warmed, in an Occidental sense, during their 
whole lives. In the winter their blood seems to be Kke water 
in the rivers, congealed at the surface, and only moving with 
a sluggish current underneath. Considering these characteris- 
tics of Chinese dwellings, it is no wonder that a certain Taotai 
who had been abroad remarked that in the United States 
the prisoners in jail had quarters more comfortable than his 
yam^n. 

We have ahready had occasion to point out the Chinese in- 
difference to crowding and noise. As soon as the weather 
becomes cold the Chinese huddle together as a matter of 
course, in order to keep warm. Even in the depth of the 
dog-days, it is not uncommon to see boats loaded with such 
numbers of passengers that there must be barely room to sit 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE 135 

or to lie. No Westerners would tolerate such crowding, yet 
the Chinese do not appear to mind it. Occidentals like to 
have their dwellings at a little distance from those of the near- 
est neighbours, for ventilation and for privacy. The Chinese 
know nothing either of ventilation or of privacy, and they do 
not seem to appreciate these conditions when they are realised. 
Every little Chinese village is built on the plan of a city with- 
out any plan. In other words, the dweUings are huddled to- 
gether as if land were excessively valuable. The inevitable 
effect is to raise the price of land, just as in a city, though for 
quite different reasons. Hence narrow courts, cramped ac- 
commodations, unhealthful overcrowding, even where there is 
abundant space to be had close at hand and at a moderate 
rate. 

A Chinese guest at a Chinese inn enjoys the bustle which 
is concomitant upon the arrival of a long train of carts, and 
falls asleep as soon as he has bolted his evening meal. His 
fellow-traveller from Western climes lies awake half the night 
listening to the champing of three-score mules, varied by kicks 
and squeals that last as long as he keeps his consciousness. 
These sounds are alternated by the beating of a huge wooden 
rattle, and by the yelping of a large force of dogs. It is not 
uncommon to see as many as fifty donkeys in one inn-yard, 
and the pandemonium which they occasion at night can be 
but faintly imagined. The Chinese, as M. Hue has mentioned, 
are not unaware that the braying of this animal can be stopped 
by suspending a brick to its tail, but repeated inquiries fail to 
elicit information of a single instance in which the thing has 
been actually done. The explanation is simply that a Chinese 
does not particularly care whether fifty donkeys bray singly, 
simultaneously, or not at all. No Occidental would be likely 
to remain neutral on such a question. That this feeling is not 
confined to any particular stratum of the Chinese social scale 
might be inferred from the circumstance that the wife of the 



136 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

leading statesman of China had at one time in the vice-regal 
yam^n about one hundred cats! 

The Buddhist rehgion is responsible for the reluctance of 
the Chinese to put an end to the wretched existence of the 
pariah dogs with which all Chinese cities are infested, yet the 
trait of character thus exhibited is not so much Chinese as 
Oriental. Mr. J. Ross Browne, who was once Minister from 
the United States to China, pubHshed an entertaining volume 
of travels in the East, adorned with drawings of his own. 
One of these represented what appeared to be a congress 
of all varieties of lean and mangy dogs, which was offered as 
" a general view of Constantinople." The same cut would do 
good service as a sketch of many Chinese cities. The Chi- 
nese do not appear to experience any serious discomfort from 
the reckless and irrepressible barking of this vast army of 
curs, nor do they take much account of the really great dan- 
gers arising from mad dogs, which are not infrequently en- 
countered. Under such circumstances, the remedy adopted 
is often that of binding some of the hair of the dog into the 
wound which it has caused, a curious analogy to the practice 
which must have originated our proverb that " the hair of the 
same dog will cure." The death of the dog does not seem to 
be any part of the object in view. 

Most of the instances already adduced relate to Chinese 
indifference to comfort. It would not be difficult to cite as 
many more which bear upon disregard of convenience, but a 
few examples will be sufficient. The Chinese pride themselves 
upon being a Uterary nation ; in fact, the literary nation of the 
world. Pens, paper, ink, and ink-slabs are called the " four 
precious things," and their presence constitutes a "literary 
apartment." It is remarkable that not one of these four in- 
dispensable articles is carried about the person. They are 
by no means sure to be at hand when wanted, and all four 
of them are utterly useless without a fifth substance, to wit, 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE i31 

water, which is required for rubbing up the ink. The pen 
cannot be used without considerable previous manipulation to 
soften its delicate hairs ; it is very liable to be injured by 
inexpert handling, and lasts but a comparatively short time. 
The Chinese have no substitute for the pen, such as lead- 
pencils, nor if they had them would they be able to keep them 
in repair, since they have no penknives, and no pockets in 
which to carry them. We have previously endeavoured, in 
speaking of the economy of the Chinese, to do justice to their 
great skill in accomplishing excellent results with very inade- 
quate means, but it is not the less true that such labour-saving 
devices as are so constantly met in Western lands are un- 
known in China. In a modem hotel in the Occident one 
has but to push something or to pull something and he gets 
whatever he wants — hot or cold water, lights, heat, service. 
But the finest hostelry in the Eighteen Provinces, like all in- 
ferior places of accommodation, obliges its guest, whenever 
he is conscious of an unsupplied need, to go to the outer door 
of his apartment and yell at the top of his voice, vainly hop- 
ing to be heard for his much speaking. 

Many articles constantly required by the Chinese are not 
to be had on demand, but only when the dealer in the same 
happens to make his irregular appearance. At all other times 
one might as well find himself dropped in the interior of the 
Soudan, so far as the supply of current wants is concerned. 
In the city every one carries a lantern at night, yet in some 
cities, at least, lanterns are to be had only when the peddler 
brings them around, and those who want them buy at such 
times, as we do of a milkman or a dealer in fresh yeast. That 
percentage of the whole population which lives in Chinese 
cities cannot be a large one, and in the country this limitation 
of traffic is the rule and not the exception. In some districts, 
for example, it is customary to sell timber for house-building 
in the second moon, and the same logs are often dragged 



138 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

about the country from one large fair to another, till they are 
either sold, or taken back to their point of departure. But 
should any inexperienced person be so rash as to wish to buy 
timber in the fifth moon, he will soon ascertain why the wisest 
of Orientals remarked that " there is a time to every purpose 
under the heaven." 

In speaking of economy we have mentioned that as most 
Chinese tools are not to be had in a completed state, the cus- 
tomer buys the parts and has them united to suit himself, 
which does not comport with our conception of convenience. 

The writer once instructed a servant to buy a hatchet for 
spHtting wood. There was none to be had, but he returned 
instead with fourteen large (imported) horse-shoes, which a 
blacksmith hammered into something resembKng a miner's 
pick, to which a carpenter affixed a handle, the total cost 
being much greater than that of a good foreign axe! 

Few inconveniences of the Celestial Empire make upon the 
Western mind a more speedy and a more indeUble impression 
than the entire absence of " sanitation." Whenever there has 
been an attempt made to accompHsh something in the way 
of drainage, as in Peking, the resultant evils are very much 
greater than those which they were designed to cure. No 
matter how long one has lived in China, he remains in a con- 
dition of mental suspense, unable to decide that most interest- 
ing question so often raised. Which is the filthiest city in the 
Empire? A visitor from one of the northern provinces 
boasted to a resident in Amoy that, in oflensiveness to the 
senses, no city in south China could equal those of the north. 
With a view to decide this moot point, the city of Amoy was 
extensively traversed, and found to be unexpectedly clean — 
that is, for a Chinese city. Jealous for the pre-eminence of 
his adopted home, the Amoy resident claimed that he was 
taken at a disadvantage, as a heavy rain had recently done 
much to wash the streets! The traveller thinks he has found 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE I39 

the worst Chinese city when he has inspected Foochow ; he 
is certain of it when he visits Ningpo, and doubly sure on 
arriving in Tientsin. Yet, after all, it will not be strange if he 
heartily recants when he reviews with candour and impartiality 
the claims of Peking! 

The three points upon which the Occidental mind is sure 
to lay principal stress when contemplating the inconveniences 
of Chinese civilisation, are the absence of postal facilities, the 
state of the roads, and the condition of the currency. Private 
companies do of course exist, by which letters and parcels 
may be transmitted from certain places in China to certain 
other places, but their functions are exceedingly limited, and 
compared with the whole Empire, the areas which they accom- 
modate are but trifling. Of Chinese roads we have already 
spoken, when discussing the absence of public spirit. There 
is a road many miles in length cut through a mountain in 
Shantung, which is so narrow that carts cannot pass one an- 
other. Guards are stationed at each end, and traffic is only 
allowed in one direction in the forenoon, and in the other 
during the afternoon ! It is because the Chinese costume — 
especially Chinese shoes — is what has been described, and 
because Chinese roads are what we know them to be, that 
whenever the weather is bad the Chinese confine themselves 
to their dwellings. In Western lands we speak of an unintelli- 
gent person as one who does not know enough to go in when 
it rains, but in China one should rather say of such a person 
that he does not know enough to stay in when it rains. 

One of the most common characters in the Chinese lan- 
guage, used to denote imperative necessity, is composed of two 
parts, which signify " stopped by the rain." With the possible 
exception of official service, the idea that any human being 
has functions the discharge of which can be harmonised with 
the rapid precipitation of moisture in the outer atmosphere, is 
one that can only be introduced to most Chinese skulls by a 



I40 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

process of trepanning. Not even public business is necessarily 
urgent, the proverb to the contrary notwithstanding. We 
have heard of a Chiaese fort of undoubted strength, in a most 
important position, armed with the most elaborate muniments 
of war, such as Krupp guns, and provided with foreign drilled 
troops, where on occasion of a rain every one of the sentries 
judiciously retired to the guard-houses, leaving not a single 
man anywhere in sight. They were " stopped by the rain"! 
The Tientsin massacre of 1870 might have been quadrupled 
in atrocity, but for a timely rain which deterred the despera- 
does already on their way to the Settlement. A portable 
shower would be one of the most perfect defences which a 
foreign traveller in the hostile parts of China could desire. 
We are confident that a steady stream of cold water delivered 
from a two-inch nozzle would, within five minutes of solar 
time, disperse the most violent mob ever seen by a foreigner 
in China. Grape-shot would be far less effectual, for many 
would stop to gather up the spent shot, while cold water is 
something for which every Chinese from the Han Dynasty 
downwards entertains the same aversion as does a cat. Ex- 
ternally or internally administered, he regards it as equally 
fatal. 

The subject of Chinese currency demands not a brief para- 
graph, but a comprehensive essay, or rather a volume. Its 
chaotic eccentricities would drive any Occidental nation to 
madness in a single generation, or more probably such gigantic 
evils would speedily work their own cure. In speaking of the 
disregard of acciuracy we have mentioned a few of the more 
prominent annoyances. A hundred cash are not a hundred, 
and a thousand cash are not a thousand, but some other and 
totally uncertain number, to be ascertained only by experience. 
In wide regions of the Empire one cash counts for two ; that 
is, it does so in numbers above twenty, so that when one hears 
that he is to be paid five hundred cash he understands that he 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE 141 

will receive two hundred and fifty pieces, less the local abate- 
ment, which perpetually shifts in different places. There is 
a constant intermixture of small or spurious cash, leading to 
inevitable disputes between dealers in any commodity. At 
irregular intervals the local magistrates become impressed with 
the evil of this debasement of the currency, and issue stem 
proclamations against it. This gives the swarm of underlings 
in the magistrate's yam^n an opportunity to levy squeezes on 
all the cash-shops in the district, and to make the transaction 
of all business more or less difficult. Prices at once rise to 
meet the temporary necessity for pure cash. As soon as the 
paying ore in this vein is exhausted — and it is not worked to 
any extent — ^the bad cash returns, but prices do not fall. Thus 
the irrepressible law by which the worse currency drives out 
the better, is never for an instant suspended. The condition 
of the cash becomes worse and worse, until, as in some parts 
of the province of Honan, every one goes to market with two 
entirely distinct sets of cash, one of which is the ordinary mix- 
ture of good with bad, and the other is composed exclusively 
of counterfeit pieces. Certain articles are paid for with the 
spurious cash only. But in regard to other commodities, this 
is matter of special bargain, and accordingly there is for these 
articles a double market price. 

Chinese cash is emphatically " filthy lucre." It cannot be 
handled without contamination. The strings, of five hun- 
dred or a thousand (nominal) pieces, are exceedingly liable to 
break, which involves great trouble in recounting and re-tying. 
There is no uniformity of weight in the current copper cash, 
but all is both bulky and heavy. Cash to the value of a 
Mexican dollar weigh not less than eight pounds avoirdupois. 
A few hundred cash are all that any one can carry about in 
the little bags which are suspended for this purpose from the 
girdle. If it is desired to use a larger sum than a few strings, 
the transportation becomes a serious matter. The losses on 




CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

transactions in ingots of silver are always great, and the per- 
son who uses them is inevitably cheated both in buying and 
in selling. If he employs the bills of cash-shops, the difficulty 
is not greatly relieved, since those of one region are either 
wholly uncurrent in another region not far away, or will be 
taken only at a heavy discount, while the person who at last 
takes them to be redeemed has in prospect a certain battle 
with the harpies of the shop by which the bills were issued, as 
to the quality of the cash which is to be paid for them. Under 
these grave disabilities, the wonder is that the Chinese are 
able to do any business at all ; and yet, as we daily perceive, 
they are so accustomed to these annoyances that their burden 
appears scarcely felt, and the only serious complaint on this 
score comes from foreigners. 

It is very common for the traveller through a Chinese village 
to see a donkey lying at full length, and attached to a post by 
a strong strap passed about his neck. But instead of adjusting 
himself to the length of his strap, the beast frequently drags 
himself to the utmost limit of his tether, and reclines with his 
head at an angle of forty-five degrees, his neck stretched in 
such a way as to threaten the dislocation of the cervical ver- 
tebrae. We wonder why he does not break his neck, and still 
more what pleasure there can be in the apparent attempt to 
do so. No Occidental donkey would behave in such a way. 
The reader who has followed us thus far through these in- 
adequate illustrations of our topic will bear in mind that the 
Chinese race, though apparently in a condition of semi-strangu- 
lation, seems to itself comparatively comfortable, which is but 
to say that the Chinese standard of comfort and convenience, 
and the standard to which we are accustomed, are widely 
, variant, which is the proposition with which we began. The 
i Cjtinese has learned to accommodate himself to his- emdron- 
^ ment. ^ To^ such jncohveni'ences as he encougtcrrn h<T- jiiibmiti 
withjycemplary patie^^welt knowing them to be inevitable. 



INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE I43 

It is not unusual to hear persons who have considerable 
acquaintance with the Chinese and their ways, especially in 
the aspects to which our attention has just been drawn, ai&m 
that the Chinese are not civilised. This very superficial and 
erroneous judgment is due to an unphilosophical confounding 
of civilisation and comfort. In considering the present condi- 
tion of China, which is much what it was three centuries ago, 
it is well to look upon the changes through which we ourselves 
have passed, for thus only can we arrive at a just comparison. 
We cannot think of the England of Milton, Shakespeare, and 
Elizabeth as an uncivilised country, but nothing is more cer- 
tain than that to the most of us it would now prove to be 
intolerable. 

It is superfluous to allude to the manifold and complex 
causes which have brought about such astonishing changes in 
the British Islands within the past three centuries. Yet more 
wonderful is the radical revolution which within the last fifty 
years has taken place in the standard of comfort and con- 
venience. If we were compelled to return to the crude ways 
of our great-grandfathers and grandfathers, it might be a ques- 
tion whether life for us would be worth living. Times have 
changed, and we have changed with them. In China, on the 
contrary, times have not changed, and neither have the peo- 
ple. The standard of comfort and convenience is the same 
now as it has been for centuries. When new conditions arise, 
these standards will inevitably alter. That they will ever be 
the same as those to which we have become accustomed is, 
however, to be neither expected nor desired. 




P-HYSICAL VITALITY. 



THAT physical vita Jitv which forms so important a back- 
ground for other Chinese characteristics, deserves con- 
sideration by itself. It may be regarded in four aspects : the 
( reproductive power o f the Chinese race, its adaptation to dif- 
frfrnt rirmmnl-in-jn, itn ^nfii7nn>y, ""'I ''<■« rpf-iip>.rat;v>. pnwf.|- 
The first impression which the traveller derives from the 
phenomena of Chinese life is that of redundance. China 
seems to be full of people. It seems to be so because it is so. 
Japan, too, appears to have a large population, but it does 
not take a very discriminating eye to perceive that the dense 
population of Japan bears no proportion to the dense popula- 
tion of China. In respect of relative and absolute density of 
population, China, more nearly resembles India than any other 
country. But the people and the languages of India are 
many and various, while the people of China, with some 
exceptions not materially affecting the issue, are one and the 
same. This first impression of a redundant population is 
everywhere confirmed, no matter in what portion of this broad 
Empire we set oiu- foot. Where the population is in reality 
sparse, this is generally found to be due to causes which are 
susceptible of easy explanation. The terrible inroads of the 
great T'aip'ing rebellion, followed by the only less destructive 
Mohammedan rebellion, and by the almost unparalleled famine 
of 1877-78, extending over five provinces, reduced the total 
population of China, perhaps by many scores of millions. The 

144 



PHYSICAL VIT/IUTY I45 

devastations due to war are not so soon repaired to the eye as 
they would be in Western lands, owing to the great reluctance 
of the Chinese to leave their ancestral homes and go into new 
regions. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to perceive that the 
forces of waste, no matter how devastating, are not so power- 
ful as the forces of repair. With a few decades of peace and 
good crops, almost any part of China would, we think, recu- 
perate from the disasters which during this century have come 
in such battahons. The provision for this recuperation is 
visible to every one, and forces itself upon his notice whether 
he does or does not desire to contemplate it. In any part of 
the Chinese Empire the most conspicuous objects in the towns 
and villages are the troops of Chinese children, with which, as 
Charles Lamb says in his deprecation of the pride of over- 
proud mothers, " every blind alley swarms." It is one of the 
standing marvels of Chinese society by what means such a 
vast army of little ones is fed and clothed, and it must be 
well borne in mind that many of them are not "fed and 
clothed " to any extent ; in other words, that the most e x- 
treme poverty does not apparently tend, to diminish Chinese 
^^gul^ioiC^ "-""" 

The onl y perm an.ent and effective check upon the^ iapid 
inprpficp nf.tTip Ct'^"fi]ae,pinpulation_apj)ears to jifiAe-een^rmed 
use of opium^ a foe to the Chinese race as deadly as war, 
famine, or pestilence. It is by no means necessary, in order 
to receive a high idea of the multiplying power of the Chinese, 
to assume the existence in China of a population far vaster in 
numbers than that of any other country. Even if we take the 
lowest estimate of about two hundred and fifty millions, the 
point is abundantly established, for the question is not one of 
the mere number of people, but of the rate of ingrease. In 
the absence of trustworthy statistics, we must be content to 
come at conclusions in a general and inexact way ; but fortu- 
nately in this matter it is almost impossible to go wrong. The 



H* CHINESE CHARyiCTERISTICS 

Cbiiw£e,maiX5Lalja yeiy,.fiadj,a^e, and the desire for posterity 
is the one ruling passion in which, next to the love of money, 
the Chinese race is most agreed. 

Contrast the apparent growth of the Chinese at any point, 
with the condition of the population in France, where the rate 
of increase is the lowest in all Europe, and where the latest 
returns show an absolute decrease in the number of inhabi- 
tants. Such facts have excited the gravest fears as to the 
future of that great country. The Chinese, on the other hand, 
show no more signs of race decay than the Anglo-Saxons. 
The earliest recorded command given by God to mankind 
was that in which they were instructed to " be fruitful and 
multiply and replenish the earth." That command, as a 
learned professor once remarked, " has been obeyed, and it is 
the only command of God that has been obeyed," and of no 
country is this more true than of China. 

The Chinese Empire, as we have already had occasion to 
remark, extends through a great area in latitude and longi- 
tude, and embraces within itself almost every variety of soil, 
climate, and production. So far as appears, the Chinese 
flourish equally in the subtropical region, the subarctic region, 
or anywhere between. Whatever differences are observed 
seem to be due to the character of the region itself and its 
capacity to sustain the population, rather than to any inherent 
difference in the capacity of the people to adapt themselves 
to one region rather than to another. The emigrating por- 
tions of the Chinese people come from a relatively minute 
area in the provinces of Kuangtung and Fukien, but wherever 
they go, to India, Burma, Siam, the East Indies, the Pacific 
Islands, Australasia, Mexico, the United States, the West In- 
dies, Central America, or South America, we never hear that 
they fail to adapt themselves with wonderful and immediate 
success to their environment, whatever it may chance to be. 
What we do hear, however, is that thejr_a4aptatioa-4& . .s o qu ick 



PHYSICAL yiTALITY 147 

ifectjtheir industry3ndJJieir..£C0i«May..5.Q Jn excess 
ofj hose. of the_ natives of theseJ^ndSjJheir_solidarity and their 
power of mutualcoEesTo nso phenomenal, that it is necessary 
for the security of the remainder of _th e. human rac elthat-'4he 
Chinese must go! " Under these circumstances, it is certainly 
most fortunate for the peace of mind of that portion of man- 
kind which is not Chinese, that this people does not as a whole 
take to emigration on a large scale. If the eastern part of 
the Asiatic continent were now as full of irrepressible human 
beings, longing to turn their energies towards the rest of the 
planet, as was Central Asia in the middle ages, it is hard to 
see what would become either of us, or of our doctrine that 
the fittest only survive. 

The utter absence of any kind of statistics renders it im- 
possible to speak of the longevity of the Chinese people in 
any other than the most general way. Probably all observers 
would agree in the conclusion that there is QO_£^t^, China 
ij, which old people are not exceed ing ly n umerous. The 
.a£ed^a£e-al3aaysU3:eat& d-jdth .great respect , 'ana~oia age is 
held to be an exceedingly great honour, and is reckoned as 
the foremost of the five varieties of felicity. The extreme 
care which is taken to preserve accurate records of the date 
of birth, down to the precise hour, tends to precision of state- 
ment when there is any occasion for such precision, albeit the 
ordinary method of counting, as has been mentioned, is so 
loose and inaccurate. The testimony of graveyard tablets is 
in favour of a considerable degree of longevity among the 
common people, but except in the vicinity of supplies of stone 
these tablets are found over only a few graves, so that, what- 
ever inferences might otherwise be drawn from them as wit- 
nesses, the tablets are practically valueless. 

It is not common to hear of Chinese who are more than a 
hundred years of age, but short of that limit the numbers 
of very aged who could anywhere be collected, if sufficient 



148 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

inducement were oflEered, we must consider as very large. 
Indeed, when the exceedingly imperfect nutrition of the poor, 
who constitute so large a part of the population of China, is 
taken into account, it becomes a wonder how such numbers 
of people survive to so great an age. It is well known that 
in all Western lands throughout the present centiuy the aver- 
age duration of life has been constantly rising. This is due to 
the increased attention paid to the laws of life, to improved 
means of preventing disease, and to better means of treating 
it. It must be remembered that in China, on the other hand, 
the conditions of life do not seem to vary greatly from what 
they were when Columbus discovered America. If social and 
medical science could do for China what has been done for 
England within the past fifty years, the number of very old 
people in the former country would certainly be very greatly 
increased. 

The complete ignorance of the laws of hygiene which 
characterises almost all Chinese, and their apparent contempt 
for those laws even when apprehended, are well known to all 
foreigners who live in China. To a foreign observer it is a 
standing problem why the various diseases which this igno- 
rance and defiance of natural laws invite, do not exterminate 
the Chinese altogether. While vast numbers of people do die 
every year in China of diseases whi^h are entirely preventable, 
the fact that the number of such persons is not indefinitely 
greater argues on the part of the Chinese a marvellous capac- 
ity to resist disease and to recover from it. The readmesg^of 
Chinese to throw awa y their lives on vor^ r slifrht prnvnrnti<Hi 
i s a characteris tic_as marked a s f^** ^^-^-^r-^y ^.t f^ eir hold up on 

In the total absence of those vital statistics to which we 
have already so often regretfully referred, we are obliged to 
depend upon the recorded observations of foreigners, which, 
owing to the constantly increasing number of foreign dispen- 



PHYSICAL yiTALlTY I49 

saries and hospitals, are becoming year by year more numerous 
and more valuable. 

To analyse and tabulate the medical reports issued even 
in a single year, with a view to illustrating the recuperative 
power of the Chinese, would be a most useful task, and the 
result would certainly present the object in a fresh and forci- 
ble manner. We must, however, be content with the mere 
statement of a few cases, by way of illustration, two of which 
occurred within the knowledge of the writer, while the third 
is taken from the published reports of a large hospital in 
Tientsin. The whole force of instances of this sort depends 
upon the undoubted fact that they are by no means iso- 
lated and altogether exceptional cases, but are such as could 
be matched by the observation of very many of our readers. 

Several years ago, while living in a house with a Chinese 
family, the writer heard one afternoon the most dismal screams 
under the window, where was placed a large beehive, made of 
adobe bricks, and open at the bottom. A httle boy fourteen 
months of age was playing in the yard, and seeing this open- 
ing into what looked hke a convenient play-house, had inju- 
diciously crawled in. The child's head was shaved perfectly 
bare, and was very red. The bees, either resenting the un- 
usual intrusion, or mistaking the bald pate for a huge peony, 
promptly Ut upon the head and began to sting. Before he 
could be removed the child had received more than thirty 
stings. The child cried but a few moments, and then, being 
laid on the k'ang, went to sleep. No medicine of any sort 
being at hand, nothing was apphed to the skin. During the 
night the child was perfectly quiet, and the next day no trace 
of the swelUng remained. 

In the year 1878 a carter in the employ of a foreign family 
in Peking was taken with the prevalent typhus fever, of which 
so many died. On the thirteenth day, when the disease 
reached a crisis, the patient, who had been very ill indeed, 



IS" CHINESE CH/IRACTERISTICS 

became exceedingly violent, exhibiting the strength of several 
men. Three persons were deputed to watch him, all of whom 
were exhausted with their labours. During the night of this 
day the patient was tied to the bed to prevent his escape. 
While the watchers were all asleep he contrived to loosen the 
cords with which he was boimd, and escaped from the house 
perfectly naked. He was missed at about 3 a.m., and the 
whole premises were searched, including the wells, into which 
it was feared he might have plunged. He was traced to the 
wall of the compound, which was nine or ten feet in height, 
and which he had scaled by chmbing a tree. He leaped or 
fell to the ground on the outer side of this wall, and at once 
made his way to the moat just inside the great wall which 
separates the Tartar city of Peking from the Chinese city. 
Here he was found two hours later, his head wedged fast be- 
tween the upright iron bars which prevent passage through 
the culvert under the wall. As he had passionately demanded 
to be taken to this place to cool his fever, it was evident that 
he had been- in this situation for a great length of time. On 
being taken home, his fever was found to be thoroughly 
broken, and though troubled with rheumatism in the legs, he 
made a slow but sure recovery. 

A Tientsin man, about thirty years of age, had been in the 
habit of making a living by collecting spent shells around the 
ground where Chinese troops were engaged in artillery prac- 
tice. On one occasion he secured a shell, when, on attempt- 
ing to break it open, it exploded and blew off his left leg. 
He was admitted to the hospital, and an amputation was per- 
formed below the knee. Instead of being cured of this dan- 
gerous mode of getting a precarious living, the man returned 
to it again as soon as possible, and about six months later, 
under similar circumstances, another explosion took place, 
which blew off his left hand about two inches above the wrist, 
leaving a ragged wound. The upper portion of the right arm 



PHYSICAL yjTALlTY 151 

was severely singed by powder. Deep lacerations took place 
over the bridge of the nose and on the upper lip ; punctured 
wounds, the result of exploding pieces of shell, were made on 
the right cheek, on the right upper eyelid, on the posterior 
edge of the frontal bone, and on the right wrist. There was 
also a deep cut over the right tibia, exposing the bone. On 
receiving these severe injuries the man lay in a semi-uncon- 
scious and helpless condition for four hoiu's, exposed to the 
heat of the sun. A mandarin happening to see him, ordered 
some coolies to carry him to the hospital, himself accompany- 
ing them for two miles. The bearers apparently became tired 
of their burden, and as soon as the mandarin was gone, threw 
the poor wretch into a ditch to die. Though much exhausted 
by the haemorrhage, he managed to crawl out and hop for five 
hundred yards to a grain-shop, where he found a large basket 
of meal, which he overturned with his sound arm and coiled 
himself inside. To get rid of him the owners of the shop 
carried him in the basket to the hospital gates, where he was 
left outside to die. Although in a condition of extreme col- 
lapse, and with a feeble pulse, due to the loss of so much 
' blood, the patient had no mental impairment and was able to 
converse intelligibly. He had been addicted to opium smok- 
ing, a circumstance which could not have been favourable to 
recovery. Yet with the exception of diarrhoea on the fifth 
and sixth days, and slight attacks of malaria, the patient had 
throughout no bad symptoms, and left the hospital with a 
wooden leg four weeks after his admission. 

If a people with such physical endowments as the Chinese 
were to be preserved from the effects of war, famines, pesti- 
lence, and opium, and if they were to pay some attention to 
the laws of physiology and of hygiene, and to be uniformly 
nourished with suitable food, there is reason to think that they 
alone would be adequate to occupv the principal part of the 
planet and more. 




CHAPTER XVII. 



PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE. 



THE term " patienc e" embraces three quite different mean- 
ings. It is the act o r ■qj:alityi-QL£xpectiBg4eMgr without 
coniplaint^-anger^r discontent. It is the power or the act of 
suffering or bearing quietly or with equanimity any evil — calm 
endurance. It is also employed as a synonym of persever- 
ance. That the group of quahties to which reference is here 
made has a very important bearing on the Ufe of the people 
to whom they belong, is obvious at a glance. The disadvan- 
tage arising from a separate and a distinct examination of 
individual Chinese characteristics is nowhere more obvious 
than in the consideration of the quahties of patience and per- 
j severance. These characteristics of the Chinese are insep- 
1 arably connected with their comparative " absence of nerves," 
\ with their " disregard of time," and especially with that quality 
lof " industry " by which the national patience and persever- 
ance are most conspicuously and most effectively illustrated. 
What has been already said upon these topics will have served 
to suggest one of the chief virtues in the Chinese character, 
but the necessarily desultory treatment involved in such inci- 
dental mention deserves to be supplemented by a more com- 
prehensive presentation. 

Among a dense population like that of the Chinese Empire, 
hfe is often reduced to its very lowest terms, and those terms 
are literally a " struggle for existence." In order to live, it is 
necessary to have the means of living, and those means each 

IS2 



P/ITIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE f^}^ 

must obtain for himself as best he can. The Chinese have 
been well said to " reduce poverty to a science." Deep pov - ^ 
erty and a hard strug gle ^.f Qr.,JJifc.jfteaH8-^4>f-.^xist6nce wilt of / 
th emselves nevgx,ia ak&,anK.,hui]oa.nJaei»e-4»4B8trious ; but if a \ 
manjcsji,ra(;gJajeadQ3Ked^\ dtk..t b fe^ ^^^ ia dMB tr y, these / 

The same conditions will also tend t o the devel- T 
npmpTit nf ennrynmy^ which, as We havc secu, is a prominent I 
Chinese quality. These conditions also develep-patienee-jcnd / 
jyrspvpranrp. The hunter and the fisherman, who know that / 
their livelihood depends upon the stealth and wariness of their 
movements, and the patience with which they wait for their 
opportunity, will be stealthy, wary, and patient, no matter 
whether they happen to belong to the races of mankind classed 
as " civilised," to those called " semi-civilised," or to those 
known as " savage." The Chinese have for ages been hunt- 
ing for a living under conditions frequently the most adverse, 
and they have thus learned to combine the active industry 
of the most civilised peoples with the passive patience of the 
North American Indian. 

The Chinese are willing to labour a very long time for very 
small rewards, because small rewards are much better than 
none. Ages of experience have taught them that it is very 
difficult to make industry a stepping-stone to those wider op- 
portunities which we of the West have come to look upon as 
its natural results. They are " natural " results only in the 
sense that when appropriate conditions are found these results 
will follow. A population of five hundred to the square mile, 
it is scarcely necessary to observe, is not one of the conditions 
adapted to lead to practical verification of the adage that in- 
dustry and economy are the two hands of fortune. But the 
Chinese is content to toil on for such rewards as he may be 
able to get, and in this contentment he illustrates his virtue 
of patience. 



[nA JJ CHINESE CH/IRACTERISTICS 



^- 



It is related of the late General Grant, that on his return 
froHTTiis trip around the globe, he was asked what was the 
most remarkable thing that he saw. He repUed at once that 
the most extraordinary sight which he anywhere beheld was 
the spectacle of a petty Chinese dealer by his keen competi- 
tion driving out a Jew. There was great significance in the 
observation. The qualities of Jewish people are by this time 
well known, and have led to most surprising results, but the 
Jews are after all but a small part of the human race. The 
Chinese, on the other hand, are a considerable percentage of 
the whole population of the planet. The Jew who was driven 
out by the Chinese did not presumptively differ in any essen- 
tial respect from any other Jew. The result of the competi- 
tion would probably have been the same though the competi- 
tors had been different in their identity, for it is morally certain 
that the successful Chinese did not differ in any essential par- 
ticular from millions of other Chinese who might have chanced 
to be in his situati onTj 

It is in his staying qualities that the Chinese excels the 
world. Of that quiet persistence which impels a Chinese 
student to keep on year after year attending the examinations, 
until he either takes his degree at the age of ninety or dies in 
the effort, mention has been ahready made. No rewards that 
are likely to ensue, nor any that are possible, will of themselves 
account for this extraordinary perseverance. It is a part of 
that innate endowment with which the Chinese are equipped, 
and is analogous to the fleetness of the deer or the keen sight 
of the eagle. A similar quality is observed in the meanest 
beggar at a shop door. He is not a welcome visitor, albeit 
so frequent in his appearances. But his patience is unfailing, 
and his perseverance invariably wins its modest reward, a 
single brass cash. 

There is a story of an Arab whose turban was stolen by 
some unknown person, upon which the loser of this important 



PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE IS5 

article of apparel promptly betook himself to the tribal burial- 
place and seated himself at the entrance. Upon being asked 
his reason for this strange behaviour, and why he did not pur- 
sue the thief, he made the calm and characteristically Oriental 
reply, " He must come here at last! " One is not infrequently 
reminded of this exaggeration of passive persistence, not only 
in the behaviour of individual Chinese, but in the acts of 
the government as well. The long and splendid reign of the 
Emperor K'ang Hsi, lasting from 1662 until 1723, made his 
name more celebrated than that of any other Asiatic monarch. 
Yet it was in the reign of this greatest of Chinese rulers that 
the Chinese patriotic pirate, known under the name of Kox- 
inga, ravaged the coasts of the provinces of Kuangtung and 
Fukien to such a degree that the government junks were 
totally unable to cope with him. Under these circumstances, 
K'ang Hsi hit upon the happy expedient of ordering all the 
people inhabiting this extended coast line to retire into the 
interior to a distance of thirty It, or about nine miles, at which 
point they were inaccessible even to such stout attacks as this 
adherent of the old order of things was able to make. This 
strange command was generally obeyed, and was quite suc- 
cessful in accomplishing its design. Koxinga retired, bafHed 
in his plans, and contented himself with driving the Dutch 
out of Formosa, and was eventually ennobled under the title 
of the " Sea-quelling Duke," by which means he was at once 
pacified and extinguished. Every foreigner reading this 
singular account is impelled to assent to the comment of the 
author of the " Middle Kingdom," that a government which 
was strong enough to compel such a number of maritime sub- 
jects to leave their towns and villages, and to retire at such 
great loss into the interior, ought to have been strong enough 
to equip a fleet and to put an end to the attacks upon these 
desolated homes. 
Another example of the persistence of the Chinese govern- 



''VI 



w 



^1/ 



CHINESE CH/tR/tCTERISTICS 



ment is not less remarkable, and is still fresh in the minds 
of foreign residents in China. In the year 1873 the Chinese 
General Tso Tsung-tang established himself in Barkoul and 
Hami, having been sent by the government to endeavour 
to put a stop to the great Mohammedan rebelhon, which, be- 
ginning with a mere spark, had spread hke wildfire all over 
western China and through Central Asia. The difiSculties to 
be overcome were so great as to appear almost insuperable. 
It was then common to meet with articles in the foreign press 
in China ridiculing both the undertaking of Tso and the fatu- 
ity of the government in endeavouring to raise money by 
loans, in order to pay the heavy war expenses thus incurred. 
Within a year of his arrival in the rebellious districts, Tso's 
army was marching on either side of the lofty T'ien-shan in 
parallel columns, driving the rebels before them. When they 
reached a country in which the supplies were insufhcient, the 
army was turned into a farming colony and set to cultivating 
the soil with a view to raising crops for their future support. 
Thus alternately planting and marching, the "agricultural 
army " of Tso thoroughly accomplished its work, an achieve- 
ment which has been thought to be among " the most remark- 
able in the annals of any modern country." 

That quality of Chinese patience which to us seems the 
most noteworthy of all, is its capacity to wait without com- 
. plaint and to bear with calm endurance. It has been said 
Vthat the true way to test the real disposition of a human being 
is to study his behaviour when he is cold, wet, and himgry. 
If that is satisfactory, take the individual in question, " warm 
him, dry him, and fill him up, and you have an angel." 
There is a conviction which often finds utterance in ciurent 
literature, that it is as dangerous to meet an Englishman de- 
prived of his dinner as a she-bear robbed of her cubs, and it 
is not easy to perceive why the truth which underlies this 
statement is not as apphcable to all Anglo-Saxons as to the 






PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE 157 

inhabitants of the British Isles. With all our boasted civilisa- 
tion we are under bondage to our stomachs. 

The writer once saw about one hundred and fifty Chinese, 
most of whom had come several miles in order to be present 
at a feast, meet a cruel disappointment. Instead of being 
able, as was expected, to sit down at about ten o'clock to the 
feast, which was for many of them the first meal of the day, 
owing to a combination of unforeseen circumstances they 
were compelled to stand aside and act as waiters on about as 
many more individuals. The latter ate with reUsh and that 
deliberation which is a trait of Chinese civiHsation in which 
it is far in advance of our own. Before the meal for which 
they had so long and so patiently waited could be served, an- 
other delay became necessary, as unforeseen as the first, and 
far more exasperating. What did these hundred and fifty 
outraged persons do? If they had been inhabitants of the 
British Isles, or even of some other portions of " nominally 
Christian lands," we know very well what they would have 
done. They would have worn looks of sour discontent, and 
would have spent the entire day until three o'clock in the 
afternoon, when it was at last possible to sit down, in growl- 
ing at their luck, and in snarling at their environment generally. 
They would have passed fiery resolutions, and have " written 
a letter with five ' Now, Sirs,' to the London Times." The 
hundred and fifty Chinese did nothing whatever of the sort, 
and were not only good-tempered all day, but repeatedly 
observed to their hosts with evident sincerity and with true 
politeness that it was of no consequence whatever that they 
had to wait, and that one time was to them exactly as good 
as another! Does the reader happen to know of any form 
of Occidental civiKsation which would have stood such a 
sudden and severe strain as that? 

That Chinese nerves are totally different from those with 
which we are endowed has been already shown, but that does 



iS8 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

not prove that the " obtuse-nerved Turanian " is a stoic like 
the North American Indian. The Chinese bear their ills not 
only with fortitude, but, what is often far more difficxilt, with 
patience. A Chinese who had lost the use of both eyes applied 
to a foreign physician to know if the sight could be restored, 
adding simply that if it could not be restored he should stop 
being anxious about it. The physician told him that nothing 
could be done, upon which the man remarked, "Then my 
heart is at ease." His was not what we call resignation, 
much less the indifference of despair, but merely the quahty 
which enables us to " bear the ills we have." We have come 
to recognise worry as the bane in oiu- modem life, the rust 
which corrodes the blade far more than the hardest use can 
destroy it. It is well for the Chinese that they are gifted with 
the capacity not to worry, for taking the race as a whole, there 
are comparatively few who do not have some very practical 
reason for deep anxiety. Vast districts of this fertile Empire 
are periodically subject to drought, flood, and, in consequence, 
to famine. Social calamities, such as lawsuits, and disasters 
even more dreaded because indefinite, overhang the head of 
thousands, but this fact would never be discovered by the ob- 
server. We have often asked a Chinese whose possession of 
his land, his house, and sometimes of his wife, was disputed, 
what the outcome would be. "There will never be any 
peace," is a common reply. "And when will the matter 
come to a head ? " " Who knows ? " is the frequent answer ; 
" it may be early or it may be late, but there is sure to be 
trouble in plenty." For life under such conditions what can 
be a better outfit than an infinite capacity for patience? 

The exhibition of Chinese patience which is likely to make 
the strongest impression upon a foreigner, is that which is 
unfortunately so often to be seen in all parts of the Empire, 
when the calamities to which reference has just been made 
have been realised upon an enormous scale. The provinces 




PATIENCE /tND PERSEVERANCE 

of China with which foreigners are most familiar are seldom 
altogether free from disasters due to flood, drought, and re- 
sultant famine. The recollection of the terrible sufferings in 
the famine of 1877-78, which involved untold millions of 
people, will not soon fade from the memories of those who 
were witnesses of that distress. Since then the woes inflicted 
upon extensive regions by the overflows of the Yellow River, 
and by its sudden change of channel, have been past all com- 
putation or comprehension. Some of the finest parts of sev- 
eral different provinces have been devastated, and fertile soil 
has been buried a fathom deep in blighting sands of desola- 
tion. Thousands of villages have been annihilated, and the 
wretched inhabitants who have escaped death by flood have 
been driven forth as wanderers on the face of the earth, with- 
out homes and without hope. Great masses of human beings, 
suddenly ruined and reduced to desperation by no fault of 
their own, are not agreeable objects of contemplation to any 
government. Sel f-preservation is t he firsts lay, qf ..nature,, and 
A£batJa-ClQES. .watlltal , tbfiin that..&as&aKhQyAlMOHgh^-nQ -pre- 
^SntaHe_causjsJW^.beeiLsgdd^^ 

should_conA^j3...£fiB3i)iSlaha'i)fi , who,, \i^iSJsS^J&. share lyith 
those whQ , hfi.v,e p"^''? 

While it is true tha t relief is extended in a fprtlfn ^"y '" 

g:?£ated.,iLiiLjyigQ...ta;e .JjjaUlii'iJdieU&JiHi^^ 

Towards the prolongation of the lives of those who suffer from 
great calamities, the government feels itself able to do but a 
trifle. Towards the reclamation of their land, the reconstruc- 
tion of their houses, and the resumption of life under new 
conditions, the government does nothing whatever. It does 
all that the people expect if it remits its taxes, and it frequently 
does not remit them until it has been again and again demon- 




if>o j(^-^ CHINESE CHy4Ry4CTERISTICS 

strated to the district magistrate that out of nothing nothing 
comes. To a foreigner from the lands of the West, where the 
revolutionary cry of "Bread, bread, or blood!" has become 
familiar, it is hard to understand why the hordes of homeless, 
famishing, and desperate refugees, who roam over the prov- 
inces bhghted by flood or famine, do not precipitate them- 
selves in a mass upon the district magistrate of the region 
where they have been ruined, and demand some form of 
succour. It is true that the magistrate would be quite power- 
less to give them what they demand, but he would be forced 
to do something, and this would be a precedent for something 
more. I £_he failed to " tranquillise " the people he woul d be 
removed, and some pjh cr official put in his place. T o repeated 
and pressing inquiries put to the Chinese in the j p^'eat famine 
as to the reasons why s nmp. snrh p1a,T^ was not taken, die i n- 

vjijiahlf. answfr was in ♦^hiFimmd'iii^USat-ilaVf " It is Vain tO 

argue, in reply to this statement, that one might as well be 
killed for rebellion, albeit unjustly, as to starve to death — ^nay, 
much better. The answer is still the same, " Not dare, not 
dare." 

There seem to be two reasons why the Chinese do not 

adopt some such coiu-se. They are a most practical people, 

, and by a kind of instinct the futility of the plan is recognised, 

and hence it would be next to impossible to effect the needed 

combination. But we must believe that the principal reason 

is the unli mited capacity o f t|ip r.liinpgp fnr paripTi1-fpf|iiranrp. 

This it IS which brings about jone of the most mflffTiflinly 
SC£Clad£SJ;aJae-.«e«B - - j«''Gh i«aH! h«t~of thousands of per sgas-, 
i cuiiethL,^tandag to death witlun_easy_reach ,of_ pverflow ing 
abundance^ The Chinese are so accustomed to this strange 
sight thaf tlTPy^!^|-f. h^^df^pd tn ij-j as old veterans disregard 
the horrors of battle. Those who suffer these evils have been 
all their Uves confronted by them, although at a little distance. 
When the disaster comes it is therefore accepted as alike in- 



PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE /i6i 

\y 

evitable and remediless. If those who are overtaken byTt 
can trundle their families on wheelbarrows off to some region 
where a bare subsistence can be begged, they will do that. 
If the family cannot be kept together, they will disperse, 
picking up what they can, and reuniting if they succeed in ' 
pulling through the distress. If no reli ef is to be had near at 
hand, whole caravans will be g theirway a journey of a thoii^ 
sand miles in mid-winter to some province where they hope 
to find that the crops have been belter, that Ia"bbiu'"islinore in 
demand , andihaLthe-chanGefr-ef-swmvai-tffe-f^eater. If the 
floods have abated, the mendicant farmer returns to his home 
long enough to scratch a crack in the mud while it is still too 
soft to bear the weight of an animal for ploughing, and in this 
tiny rift he deftly drops a little seed wheat, and again goes 
his devious way, begging a subsistence until his small harvest 
shall be ripe. If Providence favours him he becomes once 
more a farmer, and no longer a beggar, but with the distinctly 
recognised possibihty of ruin and starvation never far away. 

It has always been thought to be a powerful argument for 
the immortahty of the soul, that its finest powers often find in 
this hfe no fit opportunity for expansion. If this be a valid 
argument, is there not reason to infer that the unequalled 
patient endurance of the Chinese race must have been de- 
signed for some nobler purpose than merely to enable them 
to bear with fortitude the ordinary ills of life and the miseries 
of gradual starvation? If it be the teaching of history that 
the fittest survive, then surely a race with such a gift, backed 
by a splendid vitality, must have before it a great future. 



CHAPTER XVIIL 



CONTENT AND CHEERFULNESS. 




e 



WE have already seen that the capacity of the Chinese to 
bear the ills they have, is a wonderful, and to us in most 
cases an incomprehensible talent, which has well been called 
a psychological paradox. Notwithstanding their apparently 
hopeless condition, they do not appear to lose hope, or rather, 
they seem to struggle on without it and often against it. We 
do not perceive among them that restlessness which charac- 
terises the people of most other nations, especially towards the 
close of the nineteenth century. They do not cherish plans 
which seem to them to lead ultimately to " a good time com- 
ing," and they do not appear to suppose that there is any such 
time to be expected. 

But the terms "patience" and "perseverance" by no means 
cover the whole field of the Chinese virtues in this direction. 
We must also take account of their quietness of mind in con- 
>ditions often very unfavourable to it, and of that chronic state 
of good spirits which we designate by the term "cheerful- 
ness." Otu: main object is to call attention to the existence 
of such virtues ; yet we may perhaps be able incidentally to 
suggest certain considerations which in part help to account 
for them. 

By the term "contentedness" we do not mean to imply that 
any individual in China is satisfied with what he possesses in 
such a way and to such a degree that he does not wish to bet- 
iter his condition. The contentedness of the Chinese, as we 

162 



CONTENT yiND CHEERFULNESS 

have seen in speaking of their conservatism, is most conspicu-f 
ously seen when we consider the system under which they UveJ 
That system they do not wish to change. That this is tha 
temper of the great mass of the Chinese, we have no doubi 
whatever. It is a mode of viewing the phenomena of hfe 
which we designate by the general name " conservative," and 
of this the Chinese are as conspicuous examples as any people 
of whom we have any record. It must be evident that such 
conceptions of Chinese society, permeating the whole mass of 
the people and inherited from distant ages, powerfully tend to 
repress any practical exhibitions of discontent with the allot- 
ments of fortune. Evils of course they feel, but these are 
considered to be inevitable. Persons who seriously and uni- 
formly take this view are not the ones who are likely to en- 
deavour to upset the established order of things simply be- 
cause the pressure upon themselves is severe. In no country 
is the educated class more really a leader of thought and ac- 
tion than in China. But the educated class is firmly persuaded 
that for China and the Chinese the present system is the best 
obtainable. Their vast and varied experience in the long 
reach of Chinese history has taught the Chinese by convinc- 
ing object-lessons that solid, practical improvements in their 
system are not to be got for the trying. Their adamantine 
conservatism is the slow outgrowth of this experience. 

Without being fully aware of the fact, the Chinese.-are a | 
natinp nf. ,fafaii>tc,-^TViPrA jg a great deal in the Cla ssics about » 
thq " flpTff'i't >;'f-Jj^>q°i'»^'' There is a great dealTn popular '^ 
speech about " heaven's will." Expressions of this sort often 
bear a f^r/^f anilns)'' to tho mnnnrr in iiiirhich t*'^ "PT''^'' '^M 
EtosdSQCfi— *«t there is this radical distinction in the undery 
lying thought : to us " Providence " signifies the care and fore- 
thought of a Being who is in distinct relations to all creatures 
that on earth do dwell, all of whom are included in His thought 
and forethought ; to the Chinese, whose practical conception 



i64 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

oi "heaven" is an altogether impersonal one and utterly vague, 
whatever the mode of expression, the practical aspect of the 
matter is simply that of fate. " Good fate " and " bad fate " 
are phrases which have to the Chinese a meaning similar to 
that conveyed by the expressions in children's story-books, 
" good fairy " and " bad fairy." By means of these mysterious 
agencies anything whatever can be done, anything whatever 
can be undone. 

The whole complicated theory and practice of Chinese geo- 
mancy, necromancy, and fortune-telling, are based upon the 
play and interplay of forces which are visibly expressed by 
means of straight lines. The number of Chinese who make a 
living out of these theories of the universe practically applied, 
is past all estimation. While the extent to which such super- 
stitions influence the daily life of the people varies greatly in 
different parts of the Empire, they are everywhere real and 
living factors in the minds of the masses. Nothing is more 
common than to hear an especially unfortunate Chinese man 
or woman remark, " It is my fate." The natural outcome of 
such a creed would be to cause despair, or if the hopefulness 
with which mankind, and especially the Chinese, are merci- 
fully endowed come to the rescue, to urge them to a patient 
biding till their time shall come, and fate shall again favour 
them. Perhaps the Chinese are not as consistent fatalists as 
the Turks, and perhaps the " fate " of the Chinese is not iden- 
tical with " Kismet " ; but it is evident that a people so per- 
suaded of the existence of fate as are the Chinese, must be in- 
disposed for violent struggles against what they beheve to be, 
in the nature of things, unavoidable. 

It is a venerable observation of the Greeks that history is 
philosophy teaching by examples. As we have just seen, their 
own history has been the teacher of the Chinese, and the 
lessons which they have drawn are all of a conservative char- 
acter. But no nation is educated by simply knowing its own 



CONTENT AND CHEERFULNESS 

annals, as no man can be said to know anything who knows 
only what has happened to himself. It is at this point that 
Chinese knowledge is fatally defective. Of those great epi- 
sodes in modern history which we denote by the expressions 
the Renaissance, the Reformation, the discovery of America, 
and the birth of modem science, the Chinese know nothing. 
By those influences which brought nations into a more intimate 
contact than ever before, and which have slowly developed a 
conception of the rights of man, the Chinese as a people have 
been totally unaffected. 

The improvement of the condition of the people is not a 
living issue to those who exist and have all their being in the 
extinct dynasties of the past. The application of the great 
laws of political economy to the advantage of all departments 
of the state, has no attractions to those who know no more 
of pohtical economy than our ancestors at the time of the 
crusades, and who would not care for it if they did know of 
it. The first impulse to improvement comes from seeing the 
superior condition of others. The vast mass of the Chinese 
people do not see any evidence of such a better condition 
elsewhere, because they know nothing whatever about other 
countries. Those, on the other hand, who do know some- 
thing of such countries, and who might know much more, are 
chained by fetters of conservatism. Nothing really beneficial 
to the masses can be done, except upon a large scale, and no 
body of persons in China capable of working upon a large 
scale wishes anything done in these lines. While this does 
not of itself promote content among the masses, it strangles 
any effective manifestation of discontent before it can find 
expression. Thus, viewed from the social standpoint, Chinese 
contentedness is the antithesis of progress, and interdicts it. 

We have akeady spoken of the fact that Chinese experience 
is against the practicability of any amelioration of the con- 
dition of the people by means which are at hand. To the 



W/ 



CHINESE CH/IR/ICTERISTICS 



foreigner, acquainted with the experience of other lands in 
modern times, the simple, obvious, indispensable recipe for the 
reUef of many of the ills to which the Chinese are subject, is 
emigration. This we know from induction to be the rem- 
edy which the Chinese could adopt most easily, and with the 
greatest assurance of success. But this is an expedient which 
the Chinese themselves will never adopt, for the reason that 
it will take them away from the home of their fathers and 
from the graves of their ancestors, to which, oy the theory of 
Confucianism, they are inexorably linked. Generally speak- 
ing, no Chinese will leave his home to seek his fortune at a 
distance, tmless he is in some way driven to do so. His ideal 

tof life is to be 

\ 
V " Fixed like a plant on his peculiar spot, 

''•5,:^ To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot." 

Generally speaking, no Chinese leaves his home not intending 
to return. His hope is always to come back rich, to die and 
'be buried where his ancestors are buried. As long as this 
fatal "thirst for decomposing under the immediate feet of 
their posterity " continues to be the principal passion of the 
Chinese, so long will they be debarred from the one obvious 
method by which their ills might be effectually lightened. 
Real amehoration of the condition of the mass of the Chinese 
people where they are, we believe to be well-nigh impossible, 
and transplantation on any adequate scale they would not 
itolerate except as a decree of " fate." An unconscious con- 
sciousness of this state of things checks the expression of a dis- 
content which has abundant cause to make itself heard. 

But what we have thus far said in elucidation of the peculiar 
Chinese faculty of being contented, to which we in Western 
lands have nothing corresponding, fails after all to go to the 
root of the matter. The truth seems to be that the Chinese 
is a being formed for contentment, as the fin of the fish is 



CONTENT /IND CHEERFULNESS 167 

formed for the water, or the wing of the bird for the air. He 
is what he calls " heaven-endowed " with a talent for industry, 
for peace, and for social order. He is gifted with a matchless 
patience, and with unparalleled forbearance under ills the 
causes of which are perceived :o be beyond his reach. As a 
rule, he has a happy temperament, no nervous system to speak 
of, and a digestion like that of the ostrich. For these reasons, 
and others which we have imperfectly expressed, instead of 
spending his energies in butting against stone walls, which he 
has found to be more or less unyielding, he simply submits for 
the most part without serious complaint to what he cannot ' 
help. He acts in the spirit of the old adage, "What can't be 
cured must be endured." In short, a Chinese knows how to 
abound, and he knows how to want, and, what is of capital 
importance, he knows how to be contented in either condition. 

The cheerfulness of the Chinese, which we must regard as 
a national characteristic, is intimately connected with their 
contentedness of mind. To be happy is more than they ex- 
pect, but, unlike us, they are generally willing to be as happy 
as they can. Inordinate fastidiousness is not a common Chi- 
nese failing. They are generally model guests. Any place 
will do, any food is good enough for them. Even the mul- 
titudes who are insufficiently clothed and inadequately fed, 
preserve their serenity of spirit in a way which to us appears 
marvellous. 

An almost universal illustration of Chinese cheerfulness is 
to be found in their sociability, in striking contrast to the glum 
exclusiveness so often characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon. One 
of the main enjoyments of the Chinese seems to be chatting 
with one another, and whether they are old friends or perfect 
strangers makes very little difference. That this appreciation 
of human society is a great alleviation of many of the mis- 
eries which the Chinese suffer, cannot be doubted. 

It is also to be noted that many Chinese have the happy art/ 



1 68 CHINESE CH/H14CTERISTICS 

of adorning their very humble surroundings with plants and 
flowers, of which they are extremely fond. This is but an in- 
articulate way of saying, " We have not much, but we make 
the most of what we have.'' 

Many as are the criticisms which we perhaps justly make 
upon our Chinese servants, it is only fair to mention that they 
will frequently submit to serious inconveniences, and will do 
extra work for many persons for a great length of time, not 
only without complaint, but often with an apparent uncon- 
sciousness that there is anything to complain of. 

The Chinese who is in the service of others and is in the 
habit of bewailing his hard fate, is often laughed at by his 
companions, and sometimes he becomes a by-word and a 
proverb. Of the tireless industry of the Chinese we have 
already spoken, but it is noteworthy that those whose spindle 
is heard till after midnight, working it may be in the dark in 
order to save a farthing's worth of oil, are not the ones whose 
mouths are filled with bitter plaints. They rise early and toil 
late, and they do so as a matter of course. Some of those 
whose labour is most exhausting, as coolies, boat-trackers, 
and wheelbarrow men, not only are not heard to murmur at 
the unequal distribution of this world's goods, but when they 
have opportunities of resting do so in excellent spirits, and 
with an evident enjoyment of their humble fare. Discerning 
travellers have often called attention to this very significant 
trait of the Chinese workman. In Mr. Hosie's " Three Years 
in Western China," he says, speaking of the upper Yang-tze : 
" The trackers, too, deserve a word of mention. They were, 
with the exception of the musician and the diver, almost all 
lithe young fellows, always willing to jump on shore, never 
spending more than a quarter of an hour over their rice and 
vegetables, and never out of temper." Mr. Archibald Little, 
in his " Through the Yang-tze Gorges "' bear? a similar tcsti- 



CONTENT AND CHEERFULNESS 169 

mony : " Our five trackers clung on their hands and feet to 
the jagged rocks, as they pulled the boat up inch by inch. I 
cannot sufficiently admire the pluck and endurance of these 
poor coolies, earning but two dollars in cash for the two 
months' voyage, and getting three meals of coarse rice, fla- 
voured with a little fried cabbage, for their sustenance, upon 
which they are called to put forth their strength from dawn 
to dark daily." 

The writer is acquainted with a Chinese who was employed 
by a foreigner in pushing a heavy barrow, on journeys often 
months in duration. Upon these trips it was necessary to start 
early, to travel late, to transport heavy loads over steep and 
rugged mountains, in all seasons and in all weathers, fording 
chilling rivers with bare feet and legs, and at the end of every 
stage to prepare his master's food and lodging. All this labo- 
rious work was done for a very moderate compensation, and 
always without complaint, and at the end of several years of 
this service his master testified that he had never once seen 
this servant out of temper! Is there any reader of these lines 
of whom, mutatis mutandis, the same statement could be truth- 
fully made? 

Perhaps it is in time of sickness that the innate cheerful- \ 
ness of the Chinese disposition shows to most advantage. As 
a rule, they take the most optimistic view, or, at all events, wish 
to seem to do so, both of their own condition and of that of 
others. Their cheery hopefulness often does not forsake them 
even in physical weakness and in extreme pain. We have 
known multitudes of cases where Chinese patients, suffering 
from every variety of disease, frequently in deep poverty, not 
always adequately nourished, at a distance from their homes, 
sometimes neglected or even abandoned by their relatives, and 
with no ray of hope for the future visible, yet maintained a 
cheerful equanimity of temper, which was a constant albeit an 



17° CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

unintentional rebuke to the nervous impatience which, under 
like circumstances, would be sure to characterise the Anglo- 
Saxon. 

Chinese endued with this happy temperament we believe to 
be by no means rare. Every one of much experience in China 
has met them. We repeat that if the teaching of history as 
to what happens to " the fittest " is to be trusted, there is a 
magnificent future for the Chinese race. 




Interior of a Mohammedan Mosque. 




FILIAL PIETY. 

TO discuss the characteristics of the Chinese without men- 
tioning fihal piety, is out of the question. But the fihal 
piety of the Chinese is not an easy subject to treat. These 
words, Hke many others which we are obliged to employ, have 
among the Chinese a sense very different from that which we 
are accustomed to attach to them, and a sense of which no 
Enghsh expression is an exact translation. This is also true 
of a great variety of terms used in Chinese, and of no one 
more than of the word ordinarily rendered " ceremony " (/?), 
with which filial piety is intimately connected. To illustrate 
this, and at the same time to furnish a background for what 
we have to say of the characteristic under discussion, we can- 
not do better than to cite a passage from M. Callery (quoted 
in the " Middle Kingdom ") : " Ceremony epitomises the entir^ 
Chinese mind ; and in my opinion, the Book of Rites is per se 
the most exact and complete monograph that China has been 
able to give of herself to other nations. Its affections, if it 
has any, are satisfied by ceremony ; its duties are fulfilled by 
ceremony ; its virtues and vices are referred to ceremony ; the 
natural relations of created beings essentially link themselves 
in ceremonial — in a word, to that people ceremonial is man 
as a moral, political, and religious being, in his multiplied 
relations with family, society, and religion." Every one must 
agree in Dr. Williams's comment upon this passage, that it 
shows how " meagre a rendering is ' ceremony ' for the Chi- 
nese idea of li, for it includes not only the external conduct, 

171 



172 CHINESE CHAR/iCTERlSTlCS 

but involves the right principles from which all true etiquette 
and politeness spring." 

One of the most satisfactory methods to ascertain the 
Chinese view of filial piety would be to trace the instruction 
which is contained on this subject in the Four Books, and in 
the other Classics, especially in the " Filial Piety Classic." 
Our present object is merely to direct attention to the doctrine 
as put into practice by the Chinese, of whom filial piety, in 
the sense in which they understand it, is not merely a char- 
acteristic but a peculiarity. It must be remembered that 
Chinese fiUal piety is many-sided, and the same things are 
not to be seen in all situations or by all observers. 

At the Missionary Conference held in Shanghai in the year 
1877, a paper was read by Dr. Yates on "Ancestral Worship," 
in which he embodied the results of his thirty years' experience 
in China. In one of the opening sentences of this elaborate 
essay, the author, after speaking of ancestral worship con- 
sidered merely as a manifestation of filial piety, continues: 
" The term ' filial ' is misleading, and we should guard against 
being deceived by it. Of all the people of whom we have any 
knowledge, the sons of the Chinese are most unfihal, disobe- 
dient to parents, and pertinacious in having their own way 
from the time they are able to make known their wants." 
Dr. Legge, the distinguished translator of the Chinese Clas- 
sics, who retired from China after thirty-three years' experi- 
ence, has quoted this passage from Dr. Yates, for the purpose 
of most emphatically dissenting from it, declaring that his 
experience of the Chinese has been totally different. This 
merely illustrates the familiar truth that there is room for 
honest difference of opinion among men, as among ther- 
mometers, and that a correct view can only be reached by 
combining results that appear to be absolutely inharmonious 
into a whole that shall be even more comprehensive than 
either of its parts. 



FILUL PIETY 173 

That Chinese children have no proper discipline, that they 
are not taught to obey their parents, and that as a rule they 
have no idea of prompt obedience as we understand it, is a 
most indubitable fact attested by wide experience. But that 
the later years of these ungoverned or half-governed children 
generally do not exhibit such results as we should have ex- 
pected, appears to be not less a truth. The Chinese think and 
say that " the crooked tree, when it is large, will straighten 
itself," by which metaphor is iigured the belief that children 
when grown will do the things which they ought to do. How- 
ever it may be in regard to other duties, there really appears 
to be some foundation for this theory in the matter of iilial 
behaviour. The occasion of this phenomenon seems to lie in 
the nature of the Chinese doctrine of filial piety, the manner 
in which it is taught, and the prominence which is everywhere 
given to it. It is said in the " Filial Piety Classic " that : 
" There are three thousand crimes to which one or the other 
of the five kinds of punishment is attached as a penalty, and 
of these no one is greater than disobedience to parents." 
One of the many sayings in common circulation runs as fol- 
lows : " Of the hundred virtues filial conduct is the chief, but 
it must be judged by the intentions, not by acts ; for, judged 
by acts, there would not be a filial son in the world." The 
Chinese are expressly taught that a defect of any virtue, when 
traced to its root, is a lack of filial piety. He who violates 
propriety is deficient in filial conduct. He who serves his 
prince but is not loyal lacks filial piety. He who is a magis- 
trate without due respect for its duties is lacking in filial piety. 
He who does not show proper sincerity towards his friends 
lacks fiUal piety. He who fails to exhibit coiu:age in battle 
lacks fiUal piety. Thus the doctrine of filial conduct is seen 
to embrace much more than mere acts, and descends into the 
motives, taking cognisance of the whole moral being. 

In the popular apprehension, the real basis of the virtue of 



IT* CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

filial conduct is felt to be gratitude. This is emphasised in 
the " Filial Piety Classic," and in the chapter of the Sacred 
Edicts on the subject. The justification of the period of 
three years' mourning is found, according to Confucius, in 
the undoubted social fact that " for the first three years of its 
existence the child is not allowed to leave the arms of its 
parents," as if the one term were in some way an offset for 
[the other. The young lamb is proverbially a type of filial 
behaviour, for it has the grace to kneel when sucking its dam. 
I Filial piety demands that we should preserve the bodies which 
J our parents gave us, otherwise we seem to slight their kind- 
ess. Filial piety requires that we should serve our parents 
while they live, and worship them when dead. Filial piety 
(•requires that a son should follow in the steps of his father. 
-" If for the three years he does not alter from the way of hir 
father,'' says Confucius, "he may be called fiUal." But if 
!the parents are manifestly in the wrong, filial piety does not 
forbid an attempt at their reformation, as witness the fol- 
lowing, quoted by Dr. WiUiams from the Book of Rites: 
" When his parents are in error, the son, with a humble spirit, 
pleasing countenance, and gentle tones, must point it out to 
them. If they do not receive his reproof, he must strive 
more and more to be dutiful and respectful to them till they 
are pleased, and then he must again point out their error. 
But if he does not succeed in pleasing them, it is better that 
he should continue to reiterate reproof than permit them to 
do injury to the whole department, district, village, or neigh- 
bourhood. And if the parents, irritated and displeased, chas- 
tise their son till the blood flows from him, even then he must 
not dare to harbour the least resentment ; but on the contrary, 
should treat them with increased respect and dutifulness." 
It is to be feared that in most Western lands the admonition 
of parents upon these terms would be allowed to fall into 



FILIAL PIETY 175 

desuetude, and it is not to be wondered that we do not hear 
much of it even in China! 

In the second book of the " Confucian Analects " we find 
record of several different answers which Confucius gave as 
to the nature of filial piety, his raphes being varied according 
to the circumstances of the questioners. The first answer 
which is mentioned is that to an officer of the State of Lu, 
and is comprised in the compendious expression "wu-wei," 
which he apparently left in the mind of the Querist as a kind 
of seed to be developed by time and reflection. The words 
" wu-wei " simply mean " not disobedient," and it is natural 
that Mang I, the officer who had inquired, so understood 
them. But Confucius, like the rest of his countrymen since, 
had a " talent for indirection," and instead of explaining him- 
self to Mang I, he waited until some time later when one of 
Confucius' disciples was driving him out, when the Master 
repeated the question of Mang I to this disciple, and also the 
reply. The disciple, whose name was Fan Ch'ih, on hearing 
the words "wu-wei," very naturally asked, "What did you 
mean ? " which gave the Master the requisite opportunity to 
tell what he really meant, in the following words: "That 
parents when alive should be served according to propriety, 
that when dead they should be buried according to propriety, 
and that they should be sacrificed to according to propriety." 
The conversation between Confucius and Fan Ch'ih was in- 
tended by the former to lead the latter to report it to Mang I, 
who would thus discover what was meant to be inferred from 
the words "wu-wei"! In other answers of the Master to 
the question. What is denoted by filial piety? Confucius laid 
stress upon the requirement that parents should be treated 
with reverence, adding that when they are not so treated, 
mere physical care for them is on a plane with the care be- 
stowed upon dogs and horses. 



176 CHINESE CH/tRACTERlSTlCS 

These passages have been quoted in this connection, to 
show that the notion that filial piety consists largely in com- 
pliance with the wishes of parents, and in furnishing them 
what they need and what they want, is a very ancient idea 
in China. Confucius expressly says : " The filial piety of the 
present time means (only) the support of one's parents," 
implying that in ancient times, of which he was so fond, and 
which he wished to revive, it was otherwise. Many ages 
have elapsed since these conversations of the Master took 
place, and his doctrine has had time to penetrate the marrow 
of the Chinese people, as indeed it has done. But if Confu- 
cius were alive to-day, there is good reason to think that he 
would affirm more emphatically than ever, " The filial piety 
of the present time means only the support of one's parents." 
That the popular conscience responds to the statement of the 
claims of filial piety, as to no other duty, has been already 
observed, but in the same connection it ought to be clearly 
understood what this fihal piety is supposed to connote. If 
ten uneducated persons, taken at random, were to be asked 
what they mean by being "filial," it is altogether probable 
that nine of them would reply, " Not letting one's parents get 
angry," that is, because they are not properly served. Or, in 
a more condensed form, filial piety is "wu-wei," "not dis- 
obedient," which is what the Master said it is, albeit he used 
the words in " a Pickwickian sense." 

If any of our readers wish to see this theory in a practical 
form, let them consider the four-and-twenty ensamples of 
filial piety, iminortalised in the famihar little book called by 
that name. IXn one of these cases, a boy who hved in the 
"After Han Dynasty," at the age of six paid a visit to a 
friend, by whom he was entertained with oranges. The pre- 
cocious youth on this occasion executed the common Chinese 
feat of stealing two oranges, and thrusting them up his sleeve. 
But as he was making his parting bows the fruit rolled out, 



FILIAL PIETY 177 

and left the lad in an embarrassing situation, to which, how- 
ever, he was equal. Kneeling down before his host, he made 
the memorable observation which has rendered his name 
illustrious for nearly two millenniums : " My mother loves 
oranges very much, and I wanted them for her." As this 
lad's father was an oificer of high rank, it would seem to an 
Occidental critic that the boy might have enjoyed other op- 
portunities for gratifying her desire for oranges, but to the 
Chinese the lad is a classic instance of iilial devotion, because 
at this early age he was thoughtful for his mother, or perhaps 
so qyick at inventing an excuse. Another lad, of the Chin 
Dynasty, whose parents had no mosquito nets, at the age of 
eight hit upon the happy expedient of going to bed very early, 
lying perfectly quiet all night, not even brandishing a fan, 
in order that the family mosquitoes might gorge themselves 
upon him alone, and allow his parents to sleep in peace! 
Another lad of the same dynasty lived with a stepmother who 
disliked him, but as she was very fond of carp, which were 
not to be obtained during the winter, he adopted the injudi- 
cious plan of taking off his clothes and lying on the ice, which 
so impressed a brace of carp who had observed the proceed- 
ing from the under side that they made a hole in the ice and 
leaped forth in order to be cooked for the benefit of the iras- 
cible stepmother! 

According to the Chinese teaching, one of the instances of 
unfilial conduct is found in " selfish attachment to wife and 
children." In the chapter of the Sacred Edict already quoted, 
this behaviour is mentioned in the same connection with 
gambling, and the exhortations against each are of the same 
kind. The typical instance of true filial devotion among the 
twenty-four just mentioned, is a man who Uved in the Han 
Dynasty, and who, being very poor, found that he had not 
sufficient food to nourish both his mother and his child, three 
years of age. "We are so poor," he said to his wife, "that 



178 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

we cannot even support mother. Moreover, the little one 
shares mother's food. Why not bury the child ? We may 
have another, but if mother should die we cannot obtain her 
again." His wife dared not oppose him, and accordingly a 
hole was dug more than two feet deep, when a vase of gold 
was found with a suitable inscription, stating that Heaven 
bestowed this reward on a filial son. If the golden vase had 
not emerged, the child would have been buried alive, and ac- 
cording to the doctrine of filial piety, as commonly understood, 
rightly so. " S glfish attachment J.o wife and children " must 
notJundfiL-the^inurder ^f a chiW to prolong^e^fe^qf its 
grandpaf^it. 

The Chinese believe that there are cases of obstinate illness 
of parents, which can only be ciued by the offering of a por- 
tion of the flesh of a son or a daughter, which must be cooked 
and eaten by the unconscious parent. While the favourable 
results are not certain, they are very probable. The Peking 
Gazette frequently contains references to cases of this sort. 
The writer is personally acquainted with a young man who 
cut off a slice of his leg to cure his mother, and who exhibited 
the scar with the pardonable pride of an old soldier. While 
such cases are doubtless not very common, they are probably 
not excessively rare. 

The most important aspect of Chinese filial piety is indicated 
in a saying of Mencius, that : " There are three things which 
are unfiUal, and to have no posterity is the greatest of them." 
The necessity for posterity arises from the necessity for con- 
tinuing the sacrifices for ancestors, which is thus made the 
most important duty in Ufe. It is for this reason that every 
son must be married at as early an age as possible. It is by 
no means uncommon to find a Chinese a grandfather by the 
time he is thirty-six. An acquaintance of the writer's accused 
himself upon his death-bed of having been unfilial in two 
particulars: first, that he had not survived long enough to 



FILIAL PIETY 179 

bury his old mother ; and second, that he had neglected to 
arrange for the marriage of his son, a child of about ten years 
of age. This view of filial piety would doubtless commend 
itself to the average Chinese. 

The failure to have male children is mentioned first among 
the seven causes for the divorce of a wife. The necessity for 
male children has led to the system of concubinage, with all its 
attendant miseries. It furnishes a ground, eminently rational 
to the Chinese mind, for the greatest delight at the birth of 
sons, and a corresponding depression on occasion of the birth 
of daughters. It is this aspect of the Chinese doctrine which 
is responsible for a large proportion of the enormous infanti- 
cide which is known to exist in China. This crime is much 
more common in the south of China than in the north, where 
it often seems to be wholly unknown. But it must be remem- 
bered that it is the most difficult of all subjects upon which to 
secure exact information, just in proportion to the public senti- 
ment against it. The number of illegitimate children can never 
be small, and there is everywhere the strongest motive to de- 
stroy all such, whatever the sex. Even if direct testimony to 
the destruction of the life of female infants in any region were 
much less than it is, it would be a moral certainty that a people 
among whom the biu-ial alive of a child of three in order to 
facilitate the support of its grandmother is held to be an act 
of filial devotion, could not possibly be free from the guilt of 
destroying the lives of unwelcome female infants. 

Reference has already been made to the theory of Chinese 
mourning for parents, which is supposed to consume three 
full years, but which in practice is mercifully shortened to 
twenty-seven months. In the seventeenth book of the " Con- 
fucian Analects " we read of one of the disciples of the Mas- 
ter, who argued stoutly against three years as a period for 
mourning, maintaining that one year was enough. To this 
the Master conclusively replied that the superior man could 



.V 



. i8y CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

not be happy during the whole three years of mourning, but 
that if this particular disciple thought he could be happy by 
shortening it a year, he might do so, but the Master plainly 
regarded him as " no gentleman." 

% The observance of this mourning takes precedence of all 
other duties whatsoever, and amounts to an excision of so 
much of the lifetime of the sons, if they happen to be in gov- 
ernment employ. There are instances in which extreme filial 
devotion is exhibited by the son's building a hut near the 
grave of the mother or father, and going there to live during 
the whole time of the mourning. The most common way in 
which this is done is to spend the night only at the grave, 
while during the day the ordinary occupations are followed 
as usual. But there are some sons who will be content with 
nothing less than the whole ceremonial, and accordingly exile 
themselves for the full period, engaging in no occupation 
whatever, but being absorbed by grief. The writer is ac- 
quainted with a man of this class, whose extreme devotion to 
his parents' grave for so long a time unsettled his mind and 
made him a useless burden to his family. To the Chinese 
such an act is highly commendable, irrespective of its con- 
sequences, which are not considered at all. The ceremonial 
duty is held to be absolute and not relative. 

A It is not uncommon to meet with cases of persons who 
have sold their land to the last fraction of an acre, and even 
pulled down the house and disposed of the timbers, in order 
to provide money for a suitable funeral for one or both of the 

/'parents. That such conduct is a social wrong, few Chinese 

■^ can be brought to understand, and no Chinese can be brought 
(\(V \JiO realise. It is accordant with Chinese instinct. It is ac- 
cordant with It, or propriety, and therefore it was unquestion- 

I ably the thing to be done. 

'The Abb6 Hue gives from his own experience an excellent 
example of that ceremonial, filial conduct, which to the Chi- 



T 



FILIAL PIETY i8i 

nese is so dear. While the Abb6 was living in the south of 
China, during the first year of his residence in this Empire, 
he had occasion to send a messenger to Peking, and he be- 
thought him that perhaps a Chinese schoolmaster in his em- 
ploy, whose home was in Peking, would like to embrace the 
rare opportunity to send a message to his old mother, from 
whom he had not heard for foiu- years, and who did not know 
of her son's whereabouts. Hearing that the courier was to 
leave soon, the teacher called to one of his pupils, who was 
singing off his lesson in the next room, " Here, take this paper, 
and write me a letter to my mother. Lose no time, for the 
courier is going at once." This proceeding struck M. Hue 
as singular, and he inquired if the lad was acquainted with 
the teacher's mother, and was informed that the boy did not 
even know that there was such a person. " How then was he 
to know what to say, not having been told? " To this the 
schoolmaster made the conclusive reply: "Don't he know 
quite well what to say? For more than a year he has been 
studying literary composition, and he is acquainted with a 
number of elegant formulas. Do you think he does not know 
perfectly well how a son ought to write to a mother? " The 
pupil soon returned with the letter not only all written, but 
sealed up, the teacher merely adding the superscription with 
his own hand. The letter would have answered equally well 
for any other mother in the Empire, and any other would 
have been equally pleased to receive it. 

The amount of filial conduct on the part of Chinese children 
to their parents will vary in any two places. Doubtless both 
extremes are to be found everywhere. Parricides are not 
common, and such persons are usually insane, though that 
makes no difference in the cruel punishment which they suffer. 
But among the common people, groaning in deepest poverty, 
some harsh treatment of parents is inevitable. On the other 
hand, voluntary substitutions of a son for the father, in cases 



i82* CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

of capital punishment, are known to occur, and such instances 
speak forcibly for the sincerity and power of the instinct of 
filial devotion to a parent, though this parent may be a deeply 
dyed criminal. 

To the Occidental, fresh from the somewhat too loose bonds 
of family Ufe which not infrequently prevail in lands nominally 
Christian, the theory of Chinese fihal conduct presents some 
very attractive features. The respect for age which it in- 
volves is most beneficial, and might profitably be cultivated 
by Anglo-Saxons generally. In Western countries, when a 
son becomes of age he goes where he hkes, and does what he 
chooses. He has no necessary connection with his parents, 
nor they with him. To the Chinese such customs must ap- 
pear like the behaviour of a well-grown calf or colt to the 
cow and the mare, suitable enough for animals, but by no 
means conformable to li as applied to human beings. An at- 
tentive consideration of the matter from the Chinese stand- 
point will show that there is abundant room in our own social 
practice for improvement, and that most of us really live in 
glass houses, and would do well not to throw stones recklessly. 
Yet, on the other hand, it is idle to discuss the filial piety of 
the Chinese without making most emphatic its fatal defects in 
several particulars. 

This doctrine seems to have five radical faults, two of them 
negative and three of them positive. It has volumes on the 
duty of children towards parents, but no word on the duty of 
parents to children. China is not a country in which advice 
of this kind is superfluous. Such advice is everywhere most 
needed, and always has been so. It was an inspired wisdom 
which led the Apostle Paul to combine in a few brief sen- 
tences addressed to his Colossian church the four pillars of 
the ideal home: "Husbands, love your wives, and be not 
bitter against them." " Wives, submit yourselves unto your 
own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord." "Children, obey 



FILML PIETY 183 

your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the 
Lord." " Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest 
they be discouraged." What is there in all Confucian moral- 
ity which for practical wisdom can for a moment be put into 
competition with these far-reaching principles? The Chinese 
doctrine has nothing to say on behalf of its daughters, but 
everything on behalf of its sons. If the Chinese eye had not 
for ages been colour-blind on this subject, this gross outrage 
on human nature could not have failed of detection. By the \ 
accident of sex the infant is a family divinity. By the acci-, 
dent of sex she is a dreaded burden, liable to be destroyed/ 
and certain to be despised. 

The Chinese doctrine of filial piety puts the wife on an iii- 
ferior plane. Confucius has nothing to say of the duties of - 
wives to husbands or of husbands to wives. Christianity re- 
quires a man to leave his father and mother, and cleave to 
his wife. Confucianism requires a man to cleave to his father 
and mother, and to compel his wife to do the same. If the 
relation between the husband and his parents conflicts with 
that between the husband and his wife, the latter, as the lesser 
and inferior, is the relation which must yield. The whole 
structure of Chinese society, which is modelled upon the pa- 
triarchal plan, has grave evils. It encourages the suppression 
of some of the natural instincts of the heart that other in- 
stincts may be cultivated to an extreme degree. It results in 
the almost entire subordination of the younger during the 
whole Ufe of those who are older. It cramps the minds of 
those who are subjected to its iron pressure, preventing de- 
velopment and healthful change. 

That tenet of the Chinese doctrine which makes fiUal con- 
duct consist in leaving posterity is responsible for a long 
train of ills. It compels the adoption of children, whether 
there is or is not any adequate provision for their support. 
It leads to early marriages, and brings into existence millions 



1 84 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

of human beings, who, by reason of the excessive pinch of 
poverty, can barely keep soul and body together. It is the 
efficient cause of polygamy and concubinage, always and 
inevitably a curse. It is expressed and epitomised in the 
worship of ancestors, which is the real religion of the Chinese 
race. This system of ancestral worship, when rightly under- 
\ stood in its true significance, is one of the heaviest yokes 
which ever a people was compelled to bear. As pointed out 
by Dr. Yates in the essay to which reference has been already 
made, the hundreds of millions of living Chinese are under 
the most galling subjection to the coimtless thousands of mil- 
Kons of the dead. " The generation of to-day is chained to 
the generations of the past." Ancestral worship is the best 
type and guarantee of that leaden conservatism to which 
attention has already been directed. Until that conservatism 
shall have received some mortal wound, how is it possible for 
China to adjust herself to the wholly new conditions under 
which she finds herself in this last quarter of the century? 
And while the generations of those who have passed from the 
stage continue to be regarded as the true divinities by the 
Chinese people, how is it possible that China should take a 
single real step forward ? 

The true root of the Chinese practice of filial piety we 
believe to be a mixture of fear and self-love, two of the most 
powerful motives which can act on the human soul. The 
spirits must be worshipped on account of the power which 
they have for evil. From the Confucian point of view, it was 
a sagacious maxim of the Master, that "to respect spiritual 
beings, but to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom." 
If the sacrifices are neglected the spirits will be angry. If 
the spirits are angry they will take revenge. It is better to 
worship the spirits by way of insurance. This appears to be 
a condensed statement of the Chinese theory of all forms of 
worship of the dead. As between the living, the process of 



FILI/IL PIETY 185 

reasoning is equally simple. Every son has performed his 
filial duties to his father, and demands the same from his own 
son. That is what children are for. Upon this point the 
popular mind is explicit. " Trees are raised for shade, chil- 
dren are reared for old age." Neither parents nor children 
are under any illusions upon this subject. " If you have no 
children to foul the bed, you will have no one to bum paper 
at the grave." Each generation pays the debt which is ex- 
acted of it by the generation which preceded it, and in turn 
requires from the generation which comes after, full payment 
to the uttermost farthing. Thus is filial piety perpetuated from 
generation to generation, and from age to age. 

It is a melancholy comment upon the exaggerated Chinese 
doctrine of piety that it not only embodies no reference to a 
Supreme Being, but that it does not in any way lead up to a 
recognition of His existence. Ancestral worship, which is | 
the most complete and the ultimate expression of this filial 
piety, is perfectly consistent with polytheism, with agnos- 
ticism, and with atheism. It makes dead men into gods, and 
its only gods are dead men. Its love, its gratitude, and its 
fears are for earthly parents only. It has no conception of a 
Heavenly Father, and feels no interest in such a being when 
He is made known. Either Christianity will never be intro- 1 
duced into China, or ancestral worship will be given up, for| 
they are contradictories. In the death struggle between themf i 
the fittest only will survive. 




CHAPTER XX. 



BENEVOLENCE. 



THE Chinese have placed the term " ^nevolen&a" at the 
hnifl nf thffir liit nf the Fivft-nrrfitfrrT^vteff*! — Thi' char- 
acter which denotes it, is composed of the symbols for " man " 
and " two," by which is supposed to be shadowed forth the 
view that benevolence is something which ought to be devel- 
^edr-by-tliejCQiitact-of.,a.ny two Jiuman beings"with~i5a5lronier.~ 
It is unnecessary to remark that the theory wKiclTflieform of 
the character seems to favour, is not at all substantiated by 
the facts of life among the Chinese, as those facts are to be 
read by the intelligent and attentive observer. Nevertheless, 
it is far from being true, as a superficial examination would 
seem to indicate, that there is among the Chinese no benevo- 
lence, though this has been often predicated by those who 
ought to have known the truth. " The feeling of pity," as 
Mencius' reminds us, " is common to all men," widely as they 
diifer in its expression. The mild and in some respects really 
benevolent teachings of the Buddhist religion have not been 
without a visible effect upon the Chinese people. There is, 
moreover, among the Chinese a strong practical instinct in 
every direction, and when the attention has once been directed 
towards the " practice of virtue," there is a great variety of 
forms in which there is certain to be abundant scope for the 
exercise of benevolence. 

Among the kinds of benevolence which have commended 
themselves to the Chinese may be named the establishment of 

186 



BENEVOLENCE 



Q^ 



foundling hospitals, refuges for lepers and for the aged, and 
free schools. As China is a land which for most practical pur- 
poses is quite free from a census, it is impossible to ascertain 
to what extent these forms of benevolent action are to be 
found. Rev. David Hill, who has investigated the charities of 
central China, reports thirty benevolent institutions in the city 
of Hankow, expending annually some eight thousand pounds 
sterling. But it is hazarding httle to say that such establish- 
ments must be relatively rare ; that is to say, as regards the 
enormous population, and the enormous aggregation of that 
population in huge hives, where the needs are greatest. 

The vast soup-kitchens which are set up anywhere and every- 
where when some great flood or famine calls for them are fam- 
iUar phenomena, as well as the donation of winter clothing to 
those who are destitute. It is not the government only which 
engages in these enterprises, but the people also co-operate in 
a highly creditable manner, and instances are not uncommon 
in which large sums have been thus judiciously expended. 
The ordinary streams of refugees which swarm over the coun- 
try in a bad year are also allowed to camp down in cart-sheds, 
empty rooms, etc., but this is to a considerable extent a neces- 
sity. When such refugees come in extensive bands, and meet 
in all quarters with repulses, they are certain to be provoked 
into some form of reprisal. Common prudence dictates some 
concessions to those in such circumstances. 

We do not reckon among the benevolences of the Chinese 
such associations as the provincial clubs for the care of those 
who may be destitute at a distance from home, and who with- 
out this help could not return, or who, having died, could not 
otherwise be taken home and buried. This is an ordinary 
business transaction of the nature of insurance, and is probably 
so regarded by the Chinese themselves. 

In some of the books which have for thetr express object 
exhortations to " virtue," an account is opened, in which the 



1 88 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

individual charges himself with every bad act which he can 
remember, and credits himself with every good act. The 
balance between the two exhibits his standing at any particu- 
lar time in the account books of the Chinese Rhadamanthus. 
This system of retributive bookkeeping exhibits clearly the 
practical character of the Chinese, already remarked, as well 
as their constant and irrepressible tendency to consider the 
next life, if there be one, as only an extension and an amplifi- 
cation of the present state of existence. The apparent motive 
for a large percentage of Chinese benevolence is therefore the 
reflex benefit which such acts are expected to insure to the 
man who indulges his benevolent impulses. The open avowal 
of a selfish motive in all acts of merit sometimes leads to 
curious results. In the month of April, 1889, the prefect of 
Hangchow attempted to raise funds for the sufferers from the 
Yellow River floods, by levying a tax on each cup of tea sold 
in the tea-houses of that great city. To the people of that 
ancient capital this assessment presented itself in a light simi- 
lar to that in which the Bostonians of 1773 regarded the tea 
tax of their day. The prefect endeavoured to win the people 
over by a proclamation, in which they were informed that 
" happiness was sure to be their reward, if they cheerfully con- 
tributed to so excellent a cause." The people, however, boy- 
cotted the tea-shops, and were in the end entirely victorious. 
It is not every day that we are treated to the spectacle of a 
cityful of people banded together to resist compulsory " hap- 
piness"! 

Among the acts by which merit is to be accumulated may 
be named the providing of coffins for those too poor to buy 
them ; the gathering of human bones which have become ex- 
posed, and their reburial in a suitable manner ; the collection 
of written or printed paper that it may be burned to save it 
from desecration; and the purchase of live birds and fish, 
that they may be restored to their native element. In some 



BENEVOLENCE 189 

places plasters of a mysterious nature are also given to all 
applicants, free vaccination is (theoretically) furnished, and 
" virtue books " are provided for sale at a price below cost, 
or are even given away. While such works of merit occupy 
a very prominent place in Chinese benevolence, so far as our 
observation goes, acts of kindly good-will to men and women 
occupy a very subordinate place. When such acts occur they 
are almost sure to be on some stereotyped pattern, involving 
a minimum of trouble and thought on the part of the doer. 
It is much easier to stand on the brink of a river, watch a 
fisherman lower his net, pay for his entire catch, and throw it 
back again into the water, than to look into the cases of the 
needy at one's doors, and give help in a judicious manner. 

Moreover, to the mind of the practical Chinese there is a 
very important difference. As soon as the fish touches the 
water or the bird skims the air they are on a wholly self-sup- 
porting basis, and that is the end of the work. They will not 
expect the man who has released them to provide them and 
their numerous families with means of subsistence. For the 
man it only remains to register his virtuous act and go about 
his business, sure of no disagreeable consequences. But in 
China " virtue's door is hard to open," and it is still harder to 
shut. No one can possibly foresee all the remote conse- 
quences of some well-meant act of kindness, and knowing the 
danger of incmring responsibility, the prudent will be wary 
what they undertake. A missionary living in an interior 
province was asked by some native gentlemen to do a kind 
act for a poor beggar who was totally blind, and restore to 
him his sight. It proved to be a case of cataract, and excel- 
lent vision was secured. When the result became certain, the 
missionary was waited upon by the same gentlemen, and told 
that as he had destroyed the only means by which the blind 
man could get a living, that is, by begging, it was the duty of 
the missionary to make it up to him by taking him into em- 



1 90 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

ploy as a gatekeeper! Sometimes a benevolent old lady who 
is limited in the sphere of her activity makes a practice of 
entertaining other old ladies who seem to be deserving, but 
who are victims of cruel fate. We have heard of one case of 
this sort — and of one only — and they may not be so rare as 
is supposed. But after all abatements, it must be admitted 
that " real kindness kindly expressed " is not often to be met 
in Chinese life. 

When a vast calamity occurs, like the great famine, or the 
outburst of the Yellow River, the government, local or gen- 
eral, often comes to the front with a greater or less degree of 
promptness, and attempts to help the victims. But instead 
of doing this on any uniform and extensive scale, such as the 
perpetual recm'rence of the necessity might seem to suggest, 
it is done in a makeshift way, as if the occasion had never 
before arisen and might never arise again. The care of the 
refugees is moreover usually abandoned at the very time when 
they most need help, namely, in the early spring, when, having 
been weakened by their long suffering and by atrocious over- 
crowding, they are most liable to disease. It is then that they 
are sent away with a little ready money, to make the best of 
their way home, and to get back into their normal state of 
Hfe as best they can. The excuses for this are apparent : the 
funds are usually exhausted; there is work to be done on 
the farms, if the workers can but get food till wheat harvest. 
The government knows that they will die of pestilence if they 
remain till warm weather where they are, and destruction in 
detail seems to the officials to be a less, because a less con- 
spicuous, evil than death in masses. 

The same spirit is evinced in the curious ebullition of chari- 
tableness, which is known as the " twelve eight gruel." This 
performance may be regarded as a typical case of the most 
superficial form of Chinese benevolence. On the eighth day 
of the twelfth moon it is the custom for every one who 



BENEVOLENCE 191 

has accumulated a quantity of benevolent impulses, which ; 
have had no opportunity for their gratification, to make the | 
most liberal donations to all comers, of the very cheapest and I 
poorest quaUty of soup, during about twelve hours of solar i 
time. This is called " practising virtue,'' and is considered to ■ 
be a means of laying up merit. If the year happens to be \ 
one in which the harvest is bountiful, those who live in the ! 
country have perhaps no applicants for their coarse provender, 
as even the poorest people have as good or better at home. ! 
This circumstance does not, however, lead to the pretermis- ' 
sion of the offer, much less to the substitution of anything of \ 
a better quality. On the contrary, the donors advertise their i 
intentions with the same alacrity as in other years, not to say '; 
with greater, and when the day passes, and no one has asked 1 
for a single bowl of the rich gruel designed for them, it is s 
merely put into the broken jars out of which the pigs are fed, I 
and the wealthy man of practical benevolence retires to rest I 
with the proud satisfaction that however it may be with the ; 
poor wretches who would not come to his feast, he at least 
has done his duty for another year, and can in good conscience \ 
pose as a man of benevolence and virtue. But if, on the I 
other hand, the year should be a bad one, and grain rises to j 
a fabulous price, then this same man of means and of virtue \ 
fails to send out any notices of the " practice of virtue " for f 
this particular year, for the reason that he " cannot afford it " ! j 

We have already referred to the gifts to beggars, of whom 
one almost everywhere sees a swarm. This donation also is 
of the nature of an insurance. In the cities the beggars are, 
as is well known, organised into guilds of a very powerful 
sort, more powerful by far than any with which they can have 
to contend, for the reason that the beggars have nothing to 
lose and nothing to fear, in which respects they stand alone. 
The shopkeeper who should refuse a donation to a stalwart ? 
beggar, after the latter has waited for a reasonable length | 



192 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

/of time, and has besought with what the Geneva arbitrators 
styled " due diligence," would be liable to an invasion of a 
horde of famished wretches, who would render the existence 
even of a stolid Chinese a burden, and who would utterly pre- 
vent the transaction of any business until their continually 
rising demands should be met. Both the shopkeepers and 
the beggars understand this perfectly well, and it is for this 
reason that benevolences of .this nature flow in a steady, be it 
a tiny rill. 

The same principle, with obvious modifications, applies to 
the small donations to the incessant stream of refugees to be 
Been so often in so many places. In all these cases it will be 
observed that the object in view is by no means the benefit of 
the person upon whom the " benevolence " terminates, but the 
extraction from the benefit conferred of a return benefit for the 
giver. Every such object of Chinese charity is regarded as a 
" little Jo,'' and the main aim of those who have anything to 
do with him is to make it reasonably certain that he will 
"move on." 

To the other disabilities of Chinese benevolence must be 
added this capital one, that it is almost impossible for any en- 
terprise, however good or however tugent, to escape the with- 
ering effects of the Chinese system of squeezes, which is as 
well organised as any other part of the scheme of Chinese 
government. It is not easy to possess one's self of full details 
of the working of any regular Chinese charity, but enough has 
been observed during such a special crisis as the great famine, 
to make it certain that the deepest distress of the people is no 
barrier whatever to the most shameful peculation on the part 
of officials entrusted with the disbursement of funds for relief. 
And if such scandals take place under these circumstances, 
when public attention is most fixed on the distress and its re- 
lief, it is not difllicult to conjecture what happens when there 
is no outside knowledge either of the funds contributed or of 
their use. 



BENEVOLENCE 193 

When the Chinese come to know more of that Occidental 
civilisation of which too often only the worst side obtrudes 
itself upon them, it will certainly seem to them not a little re- 
markable that all Christendom is dotted with institutions such 
as have no parallel out of Christendom, and then it will per- 
haps occur to them to inquire into the rationale of so significant 
a fact. They may be led to notice the suggestive circumstance 
that the Chinese character for benevolence, unlike most of 
those which relate to the emotions, which generally have the 
heart radical, is written without the heart. The virtue for, 
which it stands is also too often practised without heart, with 
the general results which we have noticed. That state ofi 
mind in which practical philanthropy becomes an instinct, de- 
manding opportunity to exhibit its workings whenever the nee( 
of it is clearly perceived, may be said to be almost wholl; 
wanting among the Chinese. It is not, indeed, a human de- 
velopment. If it is to be created among the Chinese, it must 
be by the same process which has made it an integral con- 
stituent of life in the lands of the West. 



CHAPTER XXI. 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY. 



ATTENTION has been directed to that aspect of Chinese 
Xjl life which is represented by the term " benevolence," the 
very first of the so-called Constant Virtues. Benevolence is 
well-wishing. Sympathy is fellow-feeling. Our present object, 
having premised that the Chinese do practise a certain amount 
of benevolence, is to illustrate the proposition that they are 
conspicuous for a deficiency of sympathy. 

It must ever be borne in mind that the population of China 
is dense. The disasters of flood and famine are of periodical 
occurrence in almost all parts of the Empire. The Chinese 
desire for posterity is so overmastering a passion that circum- 
stances which ought to operate as an effectual check upon 
population, and which in many other countries would do so, 
appear to be in China relatively inefficient for that piupose. 
The very poorest people continue to marry their children at 
an early age, and these children bring up large families, just 
as if there were any provision for their maintenance. The 
result of these and other causes is that a large proportion of 
the population lives, in the most literal sense, from hand to 
mouth. This may be said to be the universal condition of 
day-labourers, and it is a condition from which there appears 
to be no possibility of escape. No foreigner can long deal 
with the ordinary Chinese whom he everywhere meets, without 
at once becoming aware of the fact that hardly any one has 
any ready money. The moment that anjrthing whatever is 

194 




THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY 19S 

to be done, the first demand is for cash, that those who are to 
do it may get something to eat, the presumption being that as 
yet they have had nothing. It is often very hard even for 
well-to-do people to raise the most moderate sums of money 
when it suddenly becomes necessary to do so. There is a 
most significant expression commonly employed on such oc- 
casions, which speaks of a man who is obliged to collect a sum 
with which to prosecute a lawsuit, to arrange for a funeral, and 
the like, as " putting through a famine," that is, acting like a 
starving person, in the urgency and persistency of his demands 
for help. None but those who are well off ever expect to be 
able to manage affairs of this sort without assistance. Hope- 
less poverty is the most prominent fact in the Chinese Empire, 
and the bearing of this fact upon the relations of the people to 
one another must be evident to the most careless observer. 
The result of the pressure for the means of subsistence, and 
of the habits which this pressure cultivates and fixes, even after 
the immediate demand is no longer urgent, is to bring life 
down to a hard materialistic basis, in which there are but two 
prominent facts. Money and food are twin foci of the Chinese 
ellipse, and it is about them as centres that the whole social life 
of the people revolves. 

The deep poverty of the masses of the people of the Chinese 
Empire, and the terrible struggle constantly going on to secure 
even the barest subsistence, have familiarised them with the 
most pitiable exhibitions of suffering of every conceivable 
variety. Whatever might be the benevolent impulses of any 
Chinese, he is from the nature of the case wholly helpless to 
relieve even a thousandth part of the misery which he sees 
about him all the time — misery multiplied many times in any 
year of special distress. A thoughtful Chinese must recognise 
the utter futility of the means which are employed to alleviate 
distress, whether by individual kindness or by government in- 
terference. All these methods, even when taken at their best, 



196 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

amount simply to a treatment of the symptoms, and do abso- 
lutely nothing towards removing disease. Their operation is 
akin to that of societies which should distribute small pieces of 
ice among the victims of typhoid fever — so many ounces to 
each patient, with no hospitals, no dieting, no medicine, and 
no nursing. It is not, therefore, strange that the Chinese are 
not in practical ways more benevolent, but rather that, with 
the total lack of system, of prevision, and of supervision, be- 
nevolence continues at all. We are familiar with the phenom- 
enon of the effect, upon the most cultivated persons, of con- 
stant contact with misery which they have no power either to 
hinder or to help, for this is illustrated in every modem war. 
The first sight of blood causes a sinking of the epigastric nerves, 
and makes an indelible impression ; but this soon wears away, 
and is succeeded by a comparative callousness, which, even 
to him who experiences it, is a perpetual surprise. In China 
there is always a social war, and every one is too accustomed 
to its sickening effects to give them more than a momentary 
attention. 

One of the manifestations of Chinese lack of sympathy is 
their attitude towards those who are in any way physically de- 
formed. According to the popular belief, the lame, the blind, 
especially those who are blind of but one eye, the deaf, the 
bald, the cross-eyed, are all persons to be avoided. It appears 
to be the assumption that since the physical nature is defective, 
the moral nature must be so likewise. So far as oiu: obser- 
vation extends, such persons are not treated with cruelty, but 
they excite very little of that sympathy which in Western lands 
is so freely and so spontaneously extended. They are looked 
upon as having been overtaken by a punishment for some 
secret sin, a theory exactly accordant with that of the ancient 
Jews. 

The person who is so unfortunate as to be branded with 
some natural defect or some acquired blemish will not go long 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY 197 

without being reminded of the fact. One of the mildest forms 
of this practice is that in which the peculiarity is employed as 
a description in such a way as to attract to it public attention. 
" Great elder brother with the pockmarks," says an attendant 
in a dispensary to a patient, " from what village do you come? " 
It will not be singular if the man whose eyes are afflicted with 
strabismus hears an observation to the effect that " when the 
eyes look asquint, the heart is askew " ; or if the man who has 
no hair is reminded that " out of ten bald men, nine are de- 
ceitful, and the other would be so also, were he not dumb." 
Such freaks of nature as albinos form an unceasing butt for a 
species of cheap wit, which appears never for an instant to be 
intermitted. The imfortunate possessor of peculiarities like 
this must resign himself (or herself) to a lifetime of this treat- 
ment, and happy will he be if his temperament admits of his 
listening to such talk in perpetual reiteration without becoming 
by turns furious and sullen. 

The same excess of frankness is displayed towards those who 
exhibit any mental defects. " This boy," remarks a bystander, 
" is idiotic." The lad is probably not at all " idiotic," but his 
undeveloped mind may easily become blighted by the con- 
stant repetition in his presence of the proposition that he has 
no mind at all. This is the universal method of treating all 
patients afflicted with nervous diseases, or indeed with any 
other. All their peculiarities, the details of their behaviour, 
the method in which the disease is supposed to have originated, 
the symptoms which attend its exacerbations, are all public 
property, and are all detailed in the presence of the patient, 
who must be thoroughly accustomed to hearing himself de- 
scribed as " crazy," " half-witted," " besotted in his intellect," 
etc., etc. 

Among a people to whom the birth of male children is so 
vital a matter, it is not surprising that the fact of childlessness 
is a constant occasion of reproach and taunts, just as in the 



198/ CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 



ancient days, when it was said of the mother of the prophet 
Samuel that "her adversary also provoked her sore, for to 
make her fret." If it is supposed for any reason, or without 
reason, that a mother has quietly smothered one of her children, 
it will not be strange if the announcement of the same is pub- 
licly made to a stranger. 

One of the most characteristic methods in which the Chinese 
lack of sympathy is manifested is in the treatment which brides 
receive on their wedding-day. They are often very yotmg, are 
always timid, and are naturally terror-stricken at being sud- 
denly thrust among strangers. Customs vary widely, but there 
seems to be a general indifference to the feehngs of the poor 
child thus exposed to the public gaze. In some places it is 
allowable for any one who chooses to turn back the curtains 
of the chair and stare at her. In other regions, the unmarried 
girls find it a source of keen enjoyment to post themselves at 
a convenient position as the bride passes, to throw upon her 
handfuls of hay-seed or chaff, which will obstinately adhere 
to her carefully oiled hair for a long time. Upon her emerg- 
ence from the chair at the house of her new parents, she is 
subjected to the same kind of criticism as a newly bought 
horse, with what feelings on her part it is not difficult to 
imagine. 

Side by side with the punctilious ceremony which is so 
dear to the Chinese heart is the apparent inability to perceive 
that some things must be disagreeable to other persons, and 
should for that reason be avoided. A Chinese friend, who 
had not the smallest idea of saying what would be deficient 
in politeness, remarked to the writer that when he first saw 
foreigners it seemed most extraordinary that they should have 
beards that reached all round their faces j'usf like those of 
monkeys, but he added, reassuringly, " I am quite used to it 
nowl" The teacher who is asked in the presence of his 
pupils as to their capacity, replies before them all that the one 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY / ^99 

\ ^~ — ' 

nearest the door is much the brightest, and will be a graduate < 
by the time he is twenty years of age, but the two at the next / 
table are certainly the stupidest children he ever saw. That ( 
such observations have any reflex effect upon the pupils, never / 
for a moment enters into the thought of any one. j 

The whole family hfe of the Chinese illustrates their lack ^ 
of sympathy. While there are great differences in different' 
households, and while from the nature of the case generalisa- 
tion is precarious, it is easy to see that most Chinese homes 
which are seen at all are by no means happy homes. It is 
impossible that they should be so, for they are deficient in 
that unity of feeling which to us seems so essential to real 
home life. A Chinese family is generally an association of 
individuals who are indissolubly tied together, having many 
of their interests the same, and many of them very different. 
The result is not our idea of a home, and it is not sympathy. 

Daughters in China are from the beginning of their existence 
more or less unwelcome. This fact has a most important 
bearing on their whole subsequent career, and fiunishes many 
significant illustrations of the absence of sympathy. 

Mpthpra f|,prl rlangt^terp who pass their days in the nar- 
row confinement of a Chinese court under the conditions of 
Chinese life, are not likely to lack topics of disagreement, in 
which abusive language is indulged in with a freedom which 
the unconstraint of everyday hfe tends to promote. It is a 
popular saying, full of significance to those who know Chi- 
nese homes, that a mother cannot by revihng her own daughter 
make her cease to be her own daughter! When a daughter 
is once married she is regarded as having no more relations 
with her family than those which are inseparable from com- 
munity of origin. There is a deep-seated reason for omitting 
daughters from all family registers. She is no longer our 
daughter, but the daughter-in-law of some one else. Human 
nature will assert itself in requiring visits to the mother's 



200 CHINESE CH/4RACTERISTICS 

home, at more or less frequent intervals, according to the 
local usage. In some districts these visits are very numerous 
and very prolonged, while in others the custom seems to be 
to make them as few as possible, and liable to almost com- 
plete suspension for long periods in case of a death in the 
family. But whatever the details of usage, the principle holds 
good that the daughter-in-law belongs to the family of which 
she has become a part. When she goes to her mother's home, 
she goes on a strictly business basis. She takes with her it 
may be a quantity of sewing for her husband's family, which 
the wife's family must help her get through with. She is ac- 
companied on each of these visits by as many of her children 
as possible, both to have her take care of them and to have 
them out of the way when she is not at hand to look after 
them, and most especially to have them fed at the expense of 
the family of the maternal grandmother for as long a time as 
possible. In regions where visits of this sort are frequent, and 
where there are many daughters in a family, their constant 
raids on the old home are a source of perpetual terror to the 
whole family, and a serious tax on the common resources. 
For this reason these visits are often discouraged by the 
fathers and the brothers, while secretly favoured by the 
mothers. But as local custom fixes for them certain epochs, 
such as a definite date after the New- Year, special feast-days, 
etc., the visits cannot be interdicted. 

When the daughter-in-law returns to her mother-in-law, it 
is true of her, as the adage says of a thief, that she never 
comes back empty-handed. She must take a present of some 
sort for her mother-in-law, generally food. Neglect of this 
established rite, or inability to comply with it, will soon result 
in dramatic scenes. If the daughter is married nito a family 
which is poor, or which has become so, and if she has brothers 
who are married, she will find that her visits to her mother 
are, in the language of the physicians, "contra-indicated." 




I 

o 

IS. 
> 






o 



z 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY 201 

There is war between the daughters-in-law of a family and the 
married sisters of the same family, like that between the Phi- 
listines and the children of Israel, each regarding the territory 
as peculiarly its own, and the other party as interlopers. If 
the daughters-in-law are strong enough to do so, they will, 
like the Philistines, levy a tax upon the enemy whom they 
cannot altogether exterminate or drive out. A daughter-in-law 
is regarded as a servant for the whole family, which is pre- 
cisely her position, and in getting a servant it is obviously de- 
sirable to get one who is strong and well grown, and who has 
already been taught the domestic accomplishments of cook- 
ing, sewing, and whatever industries may be the means of 
hvehhood in that particular region, rather than a child who 
has little strength or capacity. Thus we have known of a 
case where a buxom young woman of twenty was married to 
a slip of a boy literally only half her age, and in the early 
years of their wedded life she had the pleasure of nursing him 
through the smallpox, which is considered as a disease of in- 
fancy. 

The woes of daughters-in-law in China should form the 
subject rather for a chapter than for a brief paragraph. When 
it is remembered that all Chinese women marry, and gener- 
ally marry young, being for a considerable part of their lives 
under the absolute control of a mother-in-law, some faint con- 
ception may be gained of the intolerable miseries of those 
daughters-in-law who live in families where they are abused. 
Parents can do absolutely nothing to protect their married 
daughters, other than remonstrating with the families into 
which they have married, and exacting an expensive funeral 
if the daughters should be actually driven to suicide. If a 
husband should seriously injure or even kill his wife, he might 
escape all legal consequences by representing that she was 
" unfilial " to his parents. Suicides of young wives are, we 
must repeat, excessively frequent, and in some regions scarcely 



202 CHINESE CH/IR/ICTERISTICS 

a group of villages can be found where they have not recently 
taken place. What can be more pitiful than a mother's re- 
proaches to a married daughter who has attempted suicide and 
been rescued : " Why didn't you die when you had a chance? " 

The Governor of Honan, in a memorial pubHshed in the 
Peking Gazette a few years ago, showed incidentally that while 
there is responsibility in the eye of the law for the murder of 
a child by a parent, this is rendered nugatory by the provision 
that even if a married woman should wilfully and maliciously 
murder her young daughter-in-law, the murderess may ransom 
herself by a money payment. The case reported was that in 
which a woman had burned the girl who was reared to become 
her son's wife with incense sticks, then roasted her cheeks with 
red-hot pincers, and finally boiled her to death with kettlefuls 
of scalding water. Other similar instances are referred to in 
the same memorial, the soiurce of which places its authenticity 
beyond doubt. Such extreme barbarities are probably rare, 
but the cases of cruel treatment which are so aggravated as to 
lead to suicide, or to an attempt at suicide, are so frequent as 
to excite little more than passing comment. The writer is 
personally acquainted with many families in which these oc- 
currences have taken place. 

The lot of Chinese concubines is one of exceeding bitter- 
ness. The homes in which they are to be found — ^happily 
relatively few in number — are the scenes of incessant bicker- 
ings and open warfare. " The magistrate of the city in which 
I Uve," writes a resident of China of long experience, " was a 
wealthy man, a great scholar, a doctor of literature, an able 
administrator, well acquainted with the good teachings of the 
Classics; but he would lie and ciffse and rob, and torture 
people to any extent to gratify his evil passions. One of 
his concubines ran away ; she was captured, brought back, 
stripped, hung up to a beam by her feet, and cruelly and 
severely beaten." 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMP/ITHf 203 

In a country like China the poor have no time to be sick. , 
Ailments of women and children are apt to be treated by the 
men of the family as of no consequence, and are constantly j 
allowed to run into incurable maladies, because there was f 
no time to attend to them, or because the man "could not \ 
afford it." 

As we have noticed in speaking of filial piety, it is a con- 
stituent part of the theory that the younger are relatively of 
little account. They are valued principally for what they may 
become, and not for what they are. Thus the practice of 
most Western lands is in China reversed. The youngest of 
three travellers is proverbially made to take the brunt of all 
hardships. The youngest servant is uniformly the common 
drudge of the rest. In the grinding poverty of the mass of 
the people, it is not strange that the spirit even of a Chinese 
boy often rebels against the sharp limitations to which he finds 
himself pinned, and that he not infrequently runs away. The 
boy who has made up his mind to go will seldom fail to 
find some shght thread by which he may attach himself to 
some one else. The causes for this behaviour on the part of 
boys are various, but so far as we have observed, the harsh 
treatment of others is by far the most common. In a case of 
this sort, a boy recently recovered from a run of typhus fever, 
being possessed by the hearty appetite common to such patients, 
and finding the coarse black bread of the family fare hard eat- 
ing, went to a local market and indulged in the luxury of ex- 
pending cash to the value of about twenty cents. For this he 
was severely reproved by his father, upon which the lad ran 
away to Manchuria, an unfailing resort of lads all over the 
northeastern provinces, and was never heard of again. 

It was a saying of George D. Prentice, that man was the 
principal object in creation, woman being merely " a side issue." 
The phrase is a literal expression of the position of a wife in a 
Chinese family. The object had in view in matrimony by the 



<^^jj CHINESE CHAR/ICTERISTICS 

family of the girl is to get rid of supporting her. The object 
on the part of the husband's family is to propagate that family. 
These objects are not in themselves open to criticism, except 
on the ground of a too complete occupation of the field of 
human motives. But in China no one indulges in any illu- 
sions on the subject. 

That which is true of the marriages of those in the ordinary 
walks of Hfe is pre-eminently true of the poorer classes. It 
is a common observation in regard to a widow who has re- 
married, that " now she will not starve." It is a popular prov- 
erb that a second husband and a second wife are husband 
and wife only as long as there is anything to eat ; when the 
food-supply fails each shifts for himself. In times of famine 
relief cases have often been observed where the husband sim- 
ply abandons the wife and the children, leaving them to pick 
up a wretched subsistence or to starve. In many instances 
daughters-in-law were sent back to their mothers' family to be 
supported or starved as the event might be. " She is your 
daughter, take care of her yourself." In other cases where 
special food was given by distributers of famine reKef to 
women who were nursing small infants, it was sometimes found 
that this allowance had been taken from the women and de- 
voured by the men, although these instances were probably 
exceptional. 

While it would be obviously unfair to judge a people only 
by the phenomena of such years as those of great famine, there 
is an important sense in which such occasions are a species of 
touchstone by which the underlying principles of social life 
may be ascertained with more accuracy and certainty than 
^n ordinary occasions. The sale of wives and of children in 
"hina is a practice not coniined to years of peculiar distress, 
but during those years it is carried on to an extent which 
jhrows all ordinary transactions of this nature into insignif- 
cance. It is perfectly well known to those acquainted with 




THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY 

the facts, that during several recent years in many disteicts 
stricken with famine, the sale of women and children was con- 
ducted as openly as that of mules and donkeys, the only es- 
sential difference being that the former were not driven to 
market. During the great famine of 1878, which extended 
over nearly all parts of the three most northern provinces, as 
well as further south, so extensive a traffic sprung up in women 
and girls who were exported to the central provinces that in 
some places it was difficult to hire a cart, as they had all been 
engaged in the transportation of the newly purchased females 
to the regions where they were to be disposed of. In these 
cases young women were taken from a region where they were 
in a condition of starvation, and where the population was too 
redundant, to a region which had been depopulated by rebels, 
and where for many years wives had been hard to procure. 
It is one of the most melancholy features of this strange state 
of affairs, that the enforced sales of members of Chinese fami- 
lies to distant provinces was probably the best thing for all 
parties, and perhaps the only way in which the lives, both of 
those who were sold as well as the lives of those who sold them, 
could be preserved. 

We have referred to the common neglect of sickness in the 
family because the victims are " only women and children." 
Smallpox, which in Western lands we regard as a terrible 
scourge, is so constant a visitor in China that the people never 
expect to be free from its ravages. But it is not much thought 
of, because its victims are mainly children! It is exceedingly 
common to meet with persons who have lost the sight of both 
eyes in consequence of this disease. The comparative disre- 
gard of the value of infant life is displayed in ways which we 
should by no means have expected from the Chinese, who ob- 
ject so strongly to the mutilation of the human body. Young 
children are often either not buried at all, an ordinary ex- 
pression for their death being the phrase " thrown out," or if 



, :8o6/ CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

rolled in a mat, they are so loosely covered that they soon fall , 
prey to dogs. In some places the horrible custom prevails o 
crushing the body of a deceased infant into an indistinguish 
able mass, in order to prevent the " devil " which inhabited i 
from returning to vex the family! 

While the Chinese are so indifferent to smallpox, our fea 
of which they fail to appreciate, they have a similar dread o 
typhus and typhoid fevers, which are regarded much as w 
regard the scarlet fever. It is very difficult to get proper at 
tention, or any attention at all, if one happens to be takei 
with either of these diseases when away from home. To al 
appeals for help it is a conclusive reply, " That disease is con 
tagious." While this is true to some extent of many fevers, i 
is perhaps most conspicuous in a terrible scourge found ii 
some of the valleys of Yunnan, and described by Mr. Baber:' 
" The sufferer is soon seized with extreme weakness, followe( 
in a few hours by agonising aches in every part of the body 
delirium shortly ensues, and in nine cases out of ten the resul 
is fatal." According to the native accounts : " All parts c 
the sick-room are occupied by devils; even the tables an( 
mattresses writhe about and utter voices, and offer intelligibl 
replies to all who question them. Few, however, venture inti 
the chamber. The missionary assured me that the patient is 
in most cases, deserted like a leper, for fear of contagion. I 
an elder member of the family is attacked, the best attentioi 
he receives is to be placed in a solitary room with a vessel o 
water by his side. The door is secured, and a pole laid nea 
it, with which twice a day the anxious relatives, cautiousl] 
peering in, poke and prod the sick person to discover if he re 
tains any symptoms of life." 
I Among a people of so mild a disposition as the Chines 
\ there must be a great deal of domestic kindness of whicl 
(nothing is seen or heard. Sickness and trouble are peculiarl; 

* " Travels and Researches in Western China." 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY \20-j 

adapted to call out the best side of human nature, and in a 
foreign hospital for Chinese we have witnessed many instances 
of devotion not merely on the part of parents towards children, 
or children towards parents, but of wives towards husbands 
and also of husbands towards wives. The same thing is even 
more common among strangers towards one another. Many a 
Chinese mother nursing an infant will give of her overflowing 
abundance to a motherless child which else might starve. 

Unwillingness to give help to others, unless there is some 
special reason for doing so, is a trait that runs through Chinese 
social relations in multifold manifestations. It is a common , 
and in many cases a perfectly valid excuse which is made when 
a bright boy is advised to try to learn to read a little, although 
he has no opportunity to go to school, that no one will tell him 
the characters, although there may be plenty of reading men 
within reach who have abundant leisure. The very mention 
of such an ambition is certain to excite unmeasiured ridicule 
on the part of those who have had the longest experience of 
Chinese schools, as if they were saying : " By what right does 
this fellow think to take a short cut, and pick up in a few 
months what cost us years of toil, and then was forgotten in 
half the time which we took to get it? Let him hire a teacher 
for himself as we did." It is very rare indeed to meet with a 
genuine case of one who has anything which can be called a 
knowledge of characters, even of the most elementary descrip- 
tion, which he has " picked up " for himself, though such cases 
do occasionally occm-. 

The general omission to do anything for the relief of the 
drowning strikes every foreigner in China. A few years ago 
a foreign steamship was burned in the Yang-tze River, and 
the crowds of Chinese who gathered to witness the event did 
little or nothing to rescue the passengers and crew. As fast 
as they made their way to the shore many of them were robbed 
even of the clothing which they had on, and some were mur- 



CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

dered outright. Yet it should be remarked in connection with 

such atrocities as this, that it is not so very long ago that 

wrecking was a profession in England. On the other hand, in 

the autumn of 1892 a large British steamer went ashore on the 

China coast, and both the local fishermen and the officials did 

everything in their power to rescue and relieve the survivors. 

[ It remains true, however, that there is in China a general cal- 

llousness to the many cases of distress which are to be seen 

kalmost everywhere, especially along lines of travel. It is a 

|common proverb that to be poor at home is not to be counted 

as poverty, but to be poor when on the high-road, away from 

lome, will cost a man his Ufe. 

It is in travelling in China that the absence of helpful kind- 
less on the part of the people towards strangers is perhaps 
most conspicuous. When the summer rains have made all 
land travel almost impossible, he whose circumstances make 
travel a necessity will find that " heaven, earth, and man " are 
a threefold harmony in combination against him. No one 
will inform him that the road which he has taken will pres- 
ently end in a quagmire. If you choose to drive into a 
morass, it is no business of the contiguous tax-payers. We 
have spoken of the neglect of Chinese highways. When the 
traveller has been plunged into one of the sloughs with which 
all such roads at certain seasons aboimd, and finds it impossi- 
ble to extricate himself, a great crowd of persons will rapidly 
gather from somewhere, " their hands in their sleeves, and idly 
gazing," as the saying goes. It is not until a definite bargain 
has been made with them that any one of these bystanders, 
no matter how nimierous, will lift a finger to help one in any 
particular. Not only so, but it is a constant practice on such 
occasions for the local rustics to dig deep pits in difficult 
places, with the express piurpose of trapping the traveller, that 
he may be obliged to employ these same rustics to help the 
traveller out! When there is any doubt as to the road m 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY 209 

such places, one might as well plunge forward, disregarding 
the cautions of those native to the spot, since one can never 
be sure that the directions given are not designed to hinder 
rather than help. 

We have heard of one instance in which a foreign family, 
moving into an interior city of China, was welcomed with 
apparent cordiaUty by the people, the neighbours even volun- 
teering to lend them articles for housekeeping until such time 
as they might be able to procure an outfit of their own. Other 
examples there doubtless are, but it is well known that these 
are wholly exceptional. By far the most usual reception is 
total indifference on the part of the people, except so far as 
curiosity is excited to see what the new-comers are like ; a 
spirit of cupidity to make the most of the fat geese whom fate 
has sent thither to be plucked ; and sullen hostility. In the 
case of foreigners who may have been reduced to distress, 
we have never heard of any assistance voluntarily given by 
Chinese, though of course there may have been such cases. 
We have known of instances in which sailors have attempted 
the journey overland from Tientsin to Chefoo, and from Can- 
ton to Swatow, and during the whole time of their travel they 
were never once given a lodging or a mouthful of food. 

It is often difficult, and frequently impossible, for those 
who are taking a dead body home to secure admission to an 
inn. We have known a case of this sort where the brother 
of the deceased was obhged to stand guard all night in the 
street, because the landlord would not allow the coffin to come 
within the gate. An extortionate price is exacted for ferrying 
a corpse over a river, and we have been cognisant of several 
instances in which a dead body has been doubled up into a 
parcel and tied with mat wrappings, to make it appear like 
merchandise, to avoid suspicion. It was reported during a 
recent severe winter in Shantung, that the keeper of an inn in 
the city of Wei Hsien refused to allow several travellers who 



2IO CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

were half dead with cold to enter his inn, lest they should die 
there, but turned them into the street, where they all froze to 
death! 

There are some crimes committed in China for which the 
perpetrators are often not prosecuted before a magistrate, 
partly on account of the difficulty and expense of securing a 
conviction, and partly because of the shame of publicity. 
Many cases of adultery are thus dealt with by the law of 
private revenge. The offender is attacked by a large band 
of men, on the familiar Chinese principle that " where there 
are many persons, their prestige is great." Sometimes the 
man's legs are broken, sometimes his arms, and very often his 
eyes are destroyed by rubbing into them quicklime. The 
writer has known several instances of this sort, and they are 
certainly not uncommon. A very intelUgent Chinese, himself 
not unfamiliar with Occidental ways of thought, upon hear- 
ing a foreigner remonstrate against this practice as a refine- 
ment of cruelty, expressed imfeigned surprise, and remarked 
that in China such a mode of dealing with a criminal is 
thought to be " extremely mild," as he is thus merely maimed 
for life, when he really ought to be killed! 

"What do you keep coming here to eat for? " said a sister- 
in-law to her husband's brother, who had been away for 
several years, and having got into trouble had had his eyes 
rubbed out with quicklime. " We have no place for you. If 
you want something hard, here is a knife ; and if you want 
something soft, there is a rope ; so get along with you." This 
conversation was mentioned incidentally by an incurably blind 
man, as an explanation of his desire to get a little sight if that 
were possible, but if not, he intimated that either the "hard" 
or the "soft" could be made to adjust his difficulties. It is 
rare to hear of any instances in which the victim of such out- 
rages succeeds in getting a complaint heard before a mag- 
istrate. The evidence against him would be overwhelming, 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY (i"'"!^ 

and nine officials out of ten would probably consider that the 
man who had been thus dealt with deserved it all, and more. 
Even if the man were to win his case, he would be no better 
off than before, but rather the worse, as the irritation of his 
neighbours would only be increased, and his life would not 
be safe. 

It must be understood that despite the sacredness of h uman 
life in China^ there are circumstances in which it is worth very 
Jittk. Qne of the crimes which are most ex aspCTatm"^ To the 
Chine se is thefL... In a crowded population always on the 
edge of ruin, this is regarded^s^joien ace tojodety^nly less 
saiSJ^Jtta^-iiiii'Edefc, In a time of famine relief one of the 
distributers found an insane woman, who had become a klep- '^ 
tomaniac, chained to a huge mill-stone as if she were a mad 
dog. If a person becomes known as a thief or in other ways 
is a public nuisance, he is in danger of being made away with 
by a summary process, not differing essentially from the vigi- 
lance committees of the early days of California. Sometimes 
this is done by stabbing, but the method most frequently 
adopted is burying alive. Doubtless there are those who sup- 
pose this expression to be a mere figure of speech, as when 
(according to some) one is said " to swallow gold." It is, on 
the contrary, a very serious reaUty. The writer is acquainted 
with four persons who were threatened with death in this form. 
In two instances they were bound as a preliminary, and in one 
case the pit was actually dug, and in all cases the burial was 
only prevented by the intervention of some older member of 
the attacking party. In another instance, occurring in a vil- 
lage where the writer is well acquainted, a young man who 
was known to be insane was an incorrigible thief. A party of 
the villagers belonging to his own family only " consulted " ( ! ) 
with his mother, and as the result of their deliberations he was 
bound, a hole made in the ice covering the river flowing near 
the village, and the youth was dropped in. 



ai2 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

During the years in which the refluent waves of the great 
T'ai-p'ing rebelhon overspread so large a part of China, the 
excitement was everywhere intense. At such times a stranger 
had but to be suspected to be seized, and subjected to a rig- 
orous examination. If he could give no account of himself 
which was satisfactory to his captors, it went hard with him. 
Within a few hundred yards of the spot at which these lines 
are written two such tragedies occurred, little more than 
twenty years ago. The magistrates found themselves almost 
powerless to enforce the laws, and issued semi-official notifi- 
cations to the people to seize all suspicious characters. The 
villagers saw a man coming on a horse, who looked as if he 
were a native of another province, and who failed to give ade- 
quate explanations of his antecedents. His bedding being 
found to be full of articles of jewellery, which he had evidently 
plundered from somewhere, the man was tied up, a pit was 
dug, and the victim tumbled into it. While this was going 
on another was seen racing across the fields in a terrified 
manner, and it needed but the suggestion of some bystander 
that he was probably an accomplice, to secure for the second 
victim the same fate as the first. In some cases the strangers 
were compelled to dig their own graves. Any native of the 
provinces of China principally affected by the lawlessness of 
those lawless times, old enough to recollect the circumstances, 
will testify that instances of this sort were too numerous to be 
remembered or counted. In the epoch of terror caused by a 
mysterious cutting off of cues, in the year 1877, an intense 
panic seemed to pervade a large part of the Empire, and there 
can be no doubt that many persons who were suspected were 
made away with in this manner. Such periods of panic, how- 
ever, under certain conditions, are common to all races, and 
must not be laid to the charge of the Chinese as a unique 
phenomenon. 

One of the most striking of all the many exhibitions of the 




THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY 

Qun£se4a«lt-ef-6yiHpa4hyJs.JtoJ?e_fouM. JD'-i^ cruelty. It 
is popularly believed by the Chinese that the Mohammedans 
in China are more cruel than the Chinese themselves. How- 
ever this may be, there can be no doubt in the mind of any 

one who knows the Chinese that tht^y His;p1ay an inrUffpr^Tirp 

i'L^jl£JHi§ffl"gs of. others jadudaJfr^paaba^ i 

ir\JiBy.^ther.,dvilisprl country. Though children at home are [ 
almost wholly ungoverned, yet the moment their career of edu- 
cation is begun the reign of mildness ceases. The " Trimetri- 
cal Classic," the most general of the minor text-books of the 
Empire, contains a hne to the effect that to teach without 
severity is a fault in a teacher. While this motto is very 
variously acted upon, according to the temperament of the 
pedagogue and the obtuseness of his pupils, great harshness 
is certainly common. We have seen a scholar fresh from a 
preceptor who was struggling to induct his pupils into the 
mysteries of examination essays, when the former presented 
the appearance of having been through a street fight, his head 
covered with wounds and streaming with blood. It is not 

rare that PllPilS "'"'' <'^'""^" mtQ-fita..frQm-Jjie ahnsp. wliiVh 

they_rec eive_^;ffl3,^angix^;^aehers. On the other hand, it is 
not unusual for mothers whose children are so unfortunate as 
to be subject to fits, to beat them in those paroxysms, as an 
expression of the extreme disgust which such inconvenient 
attacks excite. It is not difficult to perceive that mothers 
who can beat children because they fall into convulsions wiU 
treat any of their children with cruelty when irritated by 
special provocation. 

Another example of " absence of sympathy " on the part of 
the Chinese is their systenL -tif niinishnients. It is not easy, 
from an examination of the legal code of the Empire, to as- 
certain what is and what is not in accordance with law, for 
custom seems to have sanctioned many deviations from the 
letter of the statutes. One of the most significant of these is 



214,/ CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

the enormous number of blows with the bamboo which are 
constantly resorted to, often ten times the number named in 
the law, and sometimes one hundred times as many. We 
have no space even to mention the dreadful tortures which 
are inflicted upon Chinese prisoners in the name of justice. 
They may be found enumerated in any good work on China, 
such as "The Middle Kingdom," or "Hue's Travels." The 
latter author mentions seeing prisoners on the way to the 
yam^n, with their hands nailed to the cart in which they were 
conveyed, because the constables had forgotten to bring fet- 
ters. Nothing so illustrates the proposition that though the 
Chinese have " bowels," they certainly have no " mercies," as 
the deUberate, routine cruelty with which all Chinese prisoners 
are treated who cannot pay for their exemption. A few years 
ago the press of Shanghai chronicled the infliction upon two 
old prisoners in the yam^n of the District Magistrate of that 
city of a sentence for levying blackmail on a new prisoner. 

jThey received between two thousand and three thousand 
blows with the bamboo, and had their ankles broken with an 

[siron hammer. Is it strange that the Chinese adage advises 

Ithe dead to keep out of hell and the living to keep out of 

'yam^ns ? * 

Since the preceding paragraphs were written an unexpected 
confirmation of some of the statements made has appeared 

* A Chinese who is practising law in the United States, Mr. Hang 
Yen-chang, in an article on the administration of the law in China, pub- 
lished in a leading religious journal, quotes what has been hereinbefore 
said of the Chinese " absence of nerves," remarking that the punish- 
ments of the Chinese are not regarded by themselves as cruel. While 
we are unable to agree with this view, it must not be forgotten that the 
Chinese being what they are, their laws and their customs being as they 
are, it would probably be wholly impracticable to introduce any essential 
amelioration of their punishments without a thoroughgoing reformation 
of the Chinese people as individuals. Physical force cannot safely be 
abandoned until some moral force is at hand adequate to take its place. 



THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY 215 

from a most unimpeachable source. The following is an 
extract from a translation of the Peking Gazette of February 
7, 1888: 

" The Governor of Yunnan states that in some of the coun- 
try districts of that province the villagers have a horrible 
custom of burning to death any man caught stealing com or 
fruits in the fields. They at the same time compel the man's 
relations to sign a document, giving their consent to what is 
done, and then make them light the fire with their own hands, 
so as to deter them from lodging a complaint afterwards. 
Sometimes the horrible penalty is exacted for the breaking of 
a single branch or stalk, or even false accusations are made, 
and men put to death out of spite. This terrible practice, 
which seems incredible when heard, came into use during the 
time of the Yunnan rebellion ; and the constant efforts of the 
authorities have not succeeded in extirpating it since." 

Native Chinese newspapers have within a few years con- 
tained detailed accounts of an enforced suttee practised in a 
district near Foochow. Widows are compelled to strangle 
themselves, and their bodies are then bvirned, after which 
ornamental portals are erected to their virtuous memory! 
Magistrates have in vain endeavoured to stop this cruel cus- 
tom, but their success has been only local and temporary. 

China has many needs, among which her leading states- 
men place armies, navies, and arsenals. To her foreign well- 
wishers it is plain that she needs a currency, railways, and 
scientific instruction. But does not a deeper diagnosis of the 
conditions of the Empire indicate that one of her profoundest 
needs is more human sympathy ? She needs to feel with 
childhood that sympathy which for eighteen centuries has 
been one of the choicest possessions of races and peoples 
which once knew it not. She needs to feel sympathy for 
wives and for mothers, a sympathy which eighteen centuries 
have done so much to develop and to deepen. She needs to 



2i6 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

feel sympathy for man as man, to learn that quality of mercy 
which droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, twice blest in 
blessing him that gives and him that takes — that divine com- 
passion which Seneca declared to be " a vice of the mind," 
but which the influence of Christianity has cultivated until it 
has become the fairest plant that ever bloomed upon the earth, 
the virtue in the exercise of which man most resembles God. 




Four Generations. 




CHAPTER XXII. 

SOCIAL TYPHOONS. 

AMONG a population of such unexampled density as in 
JLX. China, where famihes often of great size are crowded 
together in narrow quarters, it is impossible that occasions for 
quarrels should not be all-pervasive. " How many are there 
in your family?" you inquire of your neighbour. "Between 
ten and twenty mouths," he replies. "And do you have 
everything in common?" you ask. "Yes," is the most com- 
mon reply. Here, then, are fifteen or twenty human beings, 
probably representing three, if not four, generations, who live 
from the income of the same business or farm, an income 
which is all put into a common stock ; and the wants of all 
the members of the family are to be met solely from this 
common property. The brothers each contribute their time 
and strength to the common fund, but the sisters-in-law are 
an element of capital importance, and very difficult it is to 
harmonise them. The elder sister-in-law enjoys tyrannising 
somewhat over the younger, and the younger ones are natu- 
lally jealous of the prerogatives of the elder. Each strives to 
make her husband feel that in this community of property he 
is the one who is worsted. 

The younger generation of children furnish a prolific source 
of domestic unpleasantness. Where is the society capable of 
withstanding the strain to which it must be subjected under 
conditions such as these? Troubles of this nature are far from 

217 



2i8 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

being uncommon in well-ordered homes in Western lands ; how 
much more in the complex and compact life of the Chinese ! 
The occasions for differences are as numerous as the objects 
and interests with which human beings have to do. Money, 
food, clothes, children and their squabbles, a dog, a chicken, 
anything or nothing, will serve as the first loop on which will 
be knit a comphcated tangle of quarrel. 

One of the most enigmatical characters in the Chinese lan- 
guage is that which is used to denote the rise of passion, and 
which has been euphemistically translated "wrath-matter." 
The word "ch'i" is a most important one in all kinds of 
Chinese philosophy and in practical hfe. Ch'i is generated 
when a man becomes very angry, and the Chinese believe 
that there is some deadly connection between this developed 
"wrath-matter" and the human system generally, so that a 
violent passion is constantly named as the exciting cause of 
all varieties of diseases and ailments, such as blindness, failure 
of the heart, etc. One of the first questions which a Chinese 
doctor asks his patient is, " What was it that threw you into a 
passion? " Foreign physicians in China of wide experience 
are ready to believe that Chinese ch'i is capable of producing 
all that is claimed for it by the Chinese themselves. Of this 
the following case is a striking illustration : A man living in 
the mountains in central Shantung had a wife and several 
children, two of them olstender age. In October, i88g, the 
wife died. This made the husband very angry, not, as he 
explained, in answer to a question, because he was specially 
attached to his wife, but because he could not see how he was 
to manage the small children. In a paroxysm of fury he 
seized a Chinese razor, and made three deep cuts in his abdo- 
men. Some of his friends afterwards sewed up the wound 
with cotton thread. Six days later the man had another acces- 
sion of ch'i, and ripped open the wound. On each occasion 
he was afterwards unable to remember what he had done. 



SOCUL TYPHOONS 



<^^ 



From these fearful injuries he nevertheless recovered, to such 
an extent that six months later he was able to walk several 
hundred miles to a foreign hospital for treatment. The ab- 
dominal wound had partly closed, leaving only a small fistula, 
but the normal action of the bowels was interrupted. He is a 
striking exemplification of that physical vitality to which atten- 
tion has been already directed. 

The habit of yelling to enforce command or criticism is in- 
grained in the Chinese, and appears to be ineradicable. To 
expostulate with another in an ordinary tone of voice, paus- 
ing at times to listen to his opponent's reply, is to a Chinese 
almost a psychological impossibility. He must shout, he must \ 
interrupt, by a necessity as inexorable as that which leads a 
dog labouring under great excitement to bark. 

The Chinese have carried to a degree of perfection known 
only among Orientals the art of reviling. The moment that a 
quarrel begins abusive words of this sort are poured forth in a 
filthy stream to which nothing in the English language offers 
any parallel, and with a virulence and pertinacity suggestive 
of the fish-women of Billingsgate. The merest contact is 
often sufficient to elicit a torrent of this invective, as a touch 
induces the electric spark, and it is in constant and almost 
universal use by all classes and both sexes, always and every- 
where. It is a common complaint that women use even viler 
language than men, and that they continue it longer, justify- 
ing the aphorism that what Chinese women have lost in the 
compression of their feet seems to have been made up in the 
volubility of their tongues. Children just beginning to talk 
learn this abusive dialect from their parents and often em- 
ploy it towards them, which is regarded as extremely amusing. 
The use of this language has become to the Chinese a kind of 
second nature. It is confined to no class of society. Literary 
graduates and officials of all ranks up to the very highest, 
when provoked, employ it as freely as their coolies. It is 



2 20 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

even used by common people on the street as a kind of ban- 
tering salutation, and as such is returned in kind. 

Occidental curses are sometimes not loud but deep, but 
Chinese maledictions are nothing if not loud. An English 
oath is a winged bullet ; Chinese abuse is a ball of filth. 
Much of this abusive language is regarded as a sort of spell 
or curse. A man who has had the heads removed from his 
field of millet stands at the entrance of the alley which leads 
to his dwelling, and pours forth volleys of abuse upon the 
unknown (though often not unsuspected) offender. This 
proceeding is regarded as having a double value : first, as a 
means of notifying the public of his loss and of his consequent 
fury, thus freeing his mind ; and second, as a prophylactic, 
tending to secure him against the repetition of the offence. 
The culprit is (theoretically) in ambush, listening with some- 
thing hke awe to the frightful imprecations levelled at him. 
He cannot, of course, be sure that he is not detected, which is 
often the case. Perhaps, the loser knows perfectly well who 
•it was who stole his goods, but contents himself with a public 
reviling, as a formal notice that the culprit is either known or 
suspected, and will do well to avoid the repetition of his act. 
If provoked too far the loser will, it is thus tacitly proclaimed, 
retaliate. This is the Chinese theory of public reviling. They 
frankly admit that it not only does not stop theft, but that 
it has no necessary tendency to prevent its repetition, since 
among a large population the thief or other offender is by no 
means certain to know that he has been reviled. 

The practice of " reviling the street " is often indulged in 
by women, who mount the flat roof of the house and shriek 
away for hours at a time, or until their voices fail. A respect- 
able family would not allow such a performance if they could 
prevent it, but in China, as elsewhere, an enraged woman is a 
being difficult to restrain. Abuse delivered in this way, on 
general principles, attracts little or no attention, and one some- 



SOCIAL TYPHOONS 221 

times comes upon a man at the head of an alley, or a woman I 
on the roof, screeching themselves red in the face, with not a [ 
single auditor in sight. If the day is a hot one the reviler ( 
bawls as long as he (or she) has breath, then proceeds to re- 
fresh himself by a season of fanning, and afterwards returns 
to the attack with renewed fury. 

If a Chinese quarrel be at all violent, it is next to impossi- 
ble that it should be concluded without more or less personal 
vilification. English travellers in the south of Europe have 
noted the astonishment of the Latin races at the invariable 
habit of the inhabitant of the British Isles to strike out from 
the shoulder if he gets into a fight. The Chinese, like the 
Italians, have seldom learned to box, or if they have learned 
it is not scientific boxing. The first and chief resource of 
Chinese when matters come to extremities is to seize the cue 
of their opponent, endeavouring to pull out as much hair as 
possible. In nine fights out of ten, where only two parties 
are concerned, and where neither party can lay hold of any 
weapon, the " fight " resolves itself simply into a hair-pulling 
match. 

A Chinese quarrel is also a reviling match, low language 
and high words. But an infinitesimal fraction of the partici- 
pants in Chinese fights is seriously disabled in other respects 
than that by incessant bawUng they have become hoarse. We 
should be surprised to hear that any one ever saw a Chinese 
crowd egg on combatants. /What we have seen, what we al- 
wavs expect to see. is the instant and spontaneous appearance 
on the scene of the _p.eaee-mak er. He is double, perhaps 
quadruple. Each of the peace-makers seizes a roaring bellig- 
erent, and tranquillises him with^pod advicey^ As soon as he 
finds himself safely in charge of the peace-maker, the principal 
in the fight becomes doubly furious. He has judiciously post- 
poned losing control of himself until there is some one else 
ready to take that control, and then he gives way to spasms of 



223 CHINESE CH/1R/ICTERISTIC5 

apparent fury, unquestionably innocuous both to himself and 
f to others. /In his most furious moments a Chinese is ame- 
Inable to "reason," for T^hich he has not only a theoretical, but 
ya very practical, respect. Who ever saw a belligerent tiun 
sand rend the officious peace-maker, who is holding him from 
I flying at his foe ? This is the crucial point in the struggle. 
I Even in his fury the Chinese recognises the desirableness of 
ipeace — in the abstract — only he thinks that in his concrete 
'case peace is inapplicable. The peace-maker judges differ- 
ently, and nearly always drags away the bellicose revilen'who 
yells back to his opponent malignant defiance as he goes. 

It is a curious feature of the universal Chinese practice of 
reviling that it is not considered " good form " in hurling this 
abuse at another to touch upon his actual faults, but rather to 
impute to him the most ignoble origin, and to heap contempt 
upon his ancestors. The employment of this language towards 
another is justly regarded as a great indignity and a grave 
offence, but the point of the insult consists not in the use of 
such language in the presence of another, nor even principally 
in its application to him, but in the loss of " face " which this 
application of such terms implies. The proper apology for 
the commission of this offence is not that the person who has 
been guilty of it has demeaned himself, and has done a dis- 
graceful act, but that he was wrong in appljdng those terms to 
that person at that time. 

It is fortunate for the Chinese that they have not the habit 
of carrying weapons about them, for if they had revolvers or 
swords, like the former samurai class of Japan, it would not 
be possible to predict the amount of mischief which the daily 
evolution of ch'i would produce. 

When any Chinese is once seized of the idea that he 
has been deeply wronged, there is no power on earth which 
can prevent the sudden and often utterly ungovernable de- 
velopment of a certain amount of ch'i, or rather of a very un- 



SOCIAL TYPHOONS 223 

certain amount of it. We have heard of a man who applied 
for baptism to an old and experienced missionary and was 
very properly refused, whereupon he got a knife and threatened 
to attack the missionary to prove by ordeal of battle the claim 
to the rite of initiation. Happily this method of taking the 
kingdom of heaven by violence does not commend itself to 
most novitiates, but the underlying principle is one that is 
constantly acted upon in all varieties of Chinese social life. 
An old woman who will not take " no " for an answer asks for 
financial assistance, and throws herself on the ground in front 
of your carter's mules. If she is run over so much the better 
for her, for she is thus reasonably sure of a support for an in- 
definite period. An old vixen living in the same village as the 
writer was constantly threatening to commit suicide, but though 
.^11 her neighbours were willing to lend their aid, she never 
seemed to accompb'sh her purpose. At last she threw herself 
into one of the village mudholes with intent to drown, but 
found to her disgust that the water was only up to her neck. 
She lacked that versatility of invention which would have en- 
abled her to put her head under water and hold it there, but 
contented herself with reviling the whole village at the top of 
her voice for her contretemps. The next time she was more 
successful. 

If a wrong has been committed for which there is no legal 
redress, such as abuse of a married daughter beyond the point 
which custom warrants, a party of the injured friends will visit 
the house of the mother-in-law, and if they are resisted, will 
engage in a pitched battle. If they are not resisted, and the 
offending persons have fled, the assailants will proceed to 
smash all the crockery in the house, the mirrors, the water-jars, 
and whatever else is frangible, and having thus allowed their 
ch'i to escape, they depart. If their coming is known in ad- 
vance, the very first step is to remove all these articles to the 
house of some neighbour. One of the Chinese newspapers 



224 CHINESE CHARy4CTERlSTICS 

mentioned a case which occurred in Peking, where a man had 
arranged for a wedding with a beautiful woman, who turned 
out to be ugly, bald-headed, and elderly. The disappointed 
bridegroom became greatly enraged, struck the go-betweens, 
reviled the whole company, and smashed the bride's wedding- 
outfit. Any Chinese would have acted in the same way, if he 
was in such relations to his environment that he dared to do 
so.* It is after the preliminary paroxysms of ch'i have had 
opportunity to subside, that the work of the " peace-talker " 
— that useful factor in Chinese social hfe — is accomplished. 
Sometimes these most essential individuals are so deeply im- 
pressed with the necessity of peace, that even when the matter 
is not one which concerns them personally, they are willing to 
go from one to the other making prostrations now to this side 
and now to that, in the interests of harmony. 

Whenever social storms prove incapable of adjustment by 
the ordinary processes — ^in other words, when there is such a 
preponderance of ch'i that it cannot be dispersed without an 
explosion — there is the beginning of the lawsuit, a term in 
China of fateful significance. The same blind rage which 
leads a person to lose all control of himself in a quarrel leads 
him, after the first stages of the outbreak have passed, to de- 
termine to take the offender before a magistrate, in order " to 
have the law on him." This proceeding in Western lands is 
I generally injudicious, but in China it is sheer madness. There 
I is sound sense in the proverb which praises the man who will 
suffer himself to be imposed upon to the death before he will 

• It was reported in Peking that the present Emperor was not pleased 
with the choice of a wife which was made for him. He had been so often 
crossed in his wishes by the Empress Dowager that any selection which 
was made by her would have been distasteful. It was also whispered 
that scenes occurred in the palace not remotely unlike those mentioned as 
taking place at the wedding of one of his subjects. " When those above 
act, those below will imitate." 



r ) 

SOCIAL TYPHOONS fty 

go to the law, which will often be worse than death. We Jf" 
smile at the fury of the immigrant whose dog had been shot 
by a neighbour, and who was remonstrated with by a friend 
when the resolution to go to law was declared. " What was 
the value of the dog? " " Ze dog vas vort nottings, but since 
he vas so mean as to kill him, he shall pay ze full value of 
him." In an Occidental land such a suit would be dismissed 
with costs, and there it would end. In China it might go on 
to the ruin of both parties, and be a cause of feud for gen- 
erations yet to come. But generally speaking, every Chinese j 
lawsuit calls out upon each side the omnipresent peace-talker, 
whose services are invaluable. Millions of lawsuits are thus 
strangled before they reach the fatal stage. In a village num- 
bering a thousand families, the writer was informed that for 
more than a generation there had not been a single lawsuit, 
owing to the restraining influence of a leading man who had 
a position in the yamSn of the District Magistrate. 

A social machinery so complicated as that of China must 
often creak, and sometimes under extreme pressure bend, yet it 
seldom actually breaks beneath the strain, for, like the human 
body, the Chinese body politic is provided, as we see, with httle 
sacs of lubricating fluid, distilled, a drop at a time, exactly 
when and where they are most needed. It is the peaceable 
quality of the Chinese which makes him a valuable social unit. 
He_lQseajQrder and_ respects JaJK^j^en- when JLis.notJnJtself \ 
seapectable. Of all Asiatic peoples, the Chinese are probably I 
tpnst pasily ;j;overned , when governed on line s to which they 1 
a re accust omed. Doubtless there are...Qth«:_|Qrma--oC-eivil- I 
isation which^are4B-flaaBy-^i^-4a- most, respects superior to 
that of Ch ina. .biiLjierbaps-lhere are fe w which wo uld.sustain j 

^^^ tension to w hiclLQiiMgg -.sogjgty MlJg ,sul>- 1 

ject,_andjt4nay-be that.thereas none b.et.ter entitled to claim/ 
t he ben e diction onc e E ronqunced upon the peace-makers. 




CHAPTER XXIII. 

MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAW. 

ONE of the most distinctive features of Chinese society is 
that which is epitomised in the word "responsibility," 
a word which carries with it a significance and embraces a 
wealth of meaning to which Western lands are total strangers. 
In those lands, as we well know, the individual is the unit and 
the nation is a large collection of individuals. In China the 
unit of social life is foimd in the family, the village, or the 
clan, and these are often convertible terms. Thousands of 
Chinese villages comprise exclusively persons having the same 
surname and the same ancestors. The inhabitants have lived 
In the same spot ever since they began to live at all, and trace 
an unbroken descent for many hundred years back to the last 
great political upheaval, such as the overthrow of the Ming 
Dynasty or its establishment. In such a village there can be 
no relationship laterally more distant than " cousin," and every 
male member of an older generation is either a father, an 
uncle, or some kind of a " grandfather." Sometimes eleven 
generations are represented in the same small hamlet. This 
does not imply, as might be supposed, extreme old age on the 
part of any representative of the older generations. The 
Chinese marry young, marry repeatedly, often late in Kfe, and 
constantly adopt children. The result is such a tangle among 
relatives that without special inquiry and minute attention to 
the particular characters which are employed in writing the 
names of all who belong to the same "generation," it is im- 

226 



MUTUAL RESPONSIBIUTY AND RESPECT FOR LAIV 227 

possible to determine who constitute " the rising generation," 
and who form the generation which rose long ago. An old 
man nearly seventy years of age affirms that a young man of 
thirty is his " grandfather." All the numerous " cousins " of 
the same generation are termed " brothers," and if the per- 
plexed foreigner insists upon accuracy, and inquires whether 
they are " own brothers," he will not infrequently be enlight- 
ened with the reply that they are " own brother-cousins." The 
writer once proposed a question of this sort, and after some 
little hesitation the person addressed replied, " Why, yes, you 
might call them own brothers." 

These items are but particulars under the general head of 
the social solidarity of the Chinese. It is this solidarity which 
forms the substratum upon which rests Chinese responsibility. 
The father is responsible for his son, not merely until the latter 
attains to " years of discretion," but as long as life lasts, and 
the son is responsible for his father's debts. The elder brother 
has a definite responsibility for the younger brother, and the 
" head of the family " — ^usually the oldest representative of the 
oldest generation — has his responsibility for the whole family 
or clan. What these responsibilities actually are will depend, 
however, upon circumstances. 

Customs vary widely, and the "personal equation" is a 
most important factor, of which mere theory takes no ac- 
count. Thus in a large and influential family, embracing 
many literary men, some of whom are local magnates and 
perhaps graduates, the " head of the clan " may be an addle- 
headed old man who can neither read nor write, and who has 
never in his life been ten miles from home. 

The influence of an elder brother over a younger, or indeed 
of any older member over a younger member of the same 
family, is of the most direct and positive sort, and is entirely 
irreconcilable with what we mean by personal liberty. The 
younger brother is employed as a servant and would like to 



CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

give up his place, but his elder brother will not let him do so. 
The younger brother wishes to buy a winter garment, but his 
elder brother thinks the cost is too great, and will not allow 
him to incur the expense. Even while these remarks are 
committed to paper, a case is reported in which a Chinese has 
a number of rare old coins, which a foreigner desires to pur- 
chase. Lest the owner should refuse to sell — as is the Chinese 
way when one happens to have what another wants — the 
middleman who made the discovery proposes to the foreigner 
that he should send to the uncle of the owner of the coins a 
present of foreign candy and other trifles, by which oblique 
means such pressure will be brought to bear upon the owner 
of the coins that he will be obliged to give them up! 

There is a burlesque tale which relates that a traveller in a 
Western land once came upon a very old man with a long 
white beard, who was crying bitterly. Struck with the singu- 
larity of this spectacle, the stranger halted and asked the old 
man what he was crying about, and was stuprised to be told 
that it was because his father had just whipped him ! " Where 
is your father ? " " Over there," was the reply. Riding in 
the direction named, the traveller found a much older man, 
with a beard much longer and whiter than the other. " Is 
that your son? " asked the traveller. " Yes, it is." " Did you 
whip him?" "Yes, I did." "Why?" "Because he was 
saucy to his grandfather, and if he does it again I will whip 
him some more!" Translated into the conditions of Chinese 
life the burlesque disappears. 

Next in order to the responsibility of members of a family 
for one another comes the mutual responsibility of neighbours 
for neighbours. Whether these " neighboiu^ " are or are not 
related makes no difference in their responsibility, which de- 
pends solely upon proximity. This responsibility is based 
upon the theory that virtue and vice are contagious. Good 
neighbours will "make good neighbours, and bad neighbours 



MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAI 

will make others like them. The mother of Mencius removed 
three times in order to reach a desirable neighbourhood. To 
an Occidental, fresh from the repubhcan ideas which dominate 
the Anglo-Saxons, it seems a matter of little or no consequence 
who his neighbours are, and if he be a resident of a city he 
may occupy a dwelling for a year in ignorance even of the 
name of the family next door. But in China it is otherwise. 
If a crime takes place the neighbours are held guilty of some- 
thing analogous to what English law calls "misprision of 
treason," in that when they knew of a criminal intention they 
did not report it. It is vain to reply " I did not know." You 
are a " neighbour," and therefore you must have known. 

The proceedings which are taken when the crime of killing 
a parent has been committed, furnish a striking illustration of 
the Chinese theory of responsibility. As has been already 
mentioned in speaking of filial piety, in such instances the 
criminal is often alleged to be insane, as indeed one must be 
who voluntarily subjects himself to death by the slicing process 
when he might escape it by suicide. In a memorial published 
in the Peking Gazette a few years since, the Governor of one 
of the central provinces reported in regard to a case of par- 
ricide that he had had the houses of all the neighbours pulled 
down, on the ground of their gross dereliction of duty in not 
exerting a good moral and reformatory influence over the 
criminal ! Such a proceeding would probably strike an average 
Chinese as eminently reasonable. In some instances when 
this crime has occxured in a district, in addition to all the 
punishments of persons, the city wall itself is pulled down in 
parts, or modified in shape, a round corner substituted for a 
square one, or a gate removed to a new situation, or even 
closed up altogether. If the crime should be repeated several 
times in the same district, it is said that the whole city would 
be razed to the ground, and a new one founded elsewhere, but 
of this we have met with no certain examples. 




CHINESE CH/IRACTERISTICS 

Next above the neighbours comes the village constable o r 
bailiff;^whose functions are of a mos t miscellaneous nature, 
s ometimes " cQnfiaeji-lQ-a.^in£le .yiila,ge,^ amr sometimes extenS- 
i ng to many . In either case he is the medium of communi- 
cation between the local magistrate and the people, and is 
always liable to get into trouble from any one of innumerable 
causes, and may be beaten to a jelly by a captious official for 
not reporting what he could not possibly have known. 

At a vast elevation above the village constables stand the 
Pi n trirt l\ Tni cintrntri, who, so far as the people are concerned, 

are by iatJifi.jaiQ5taHffiaitaaL.^S£SSjn_^^ 
the people below them they are tigers. As regards the officials 
above them they are mice. A sin gle local ma gistrate combines 
functions whidi^ ought Ja„he. distributed' among at least six 
ifferejiLflflicers. A man who is at once the civil and the 




thp trpasiirer , nr\i\ \h f^. 

nus fiistrir.t,.cainDQt,at- 
t md i .t o - thft . d ctt'wil'.f -r rf ' ttH' h i n • w fii JiT This vicious agglomera- 
tion of duties in one office renders it both a physical and a 
moral impossibility that these duties should be properly dis- 
charged. Many magistrates have no interest whatever in the 
business which they despatch, except to extract from it all that 
it can be made to yield, and, from the nature of their miscel- 
laneous and incongruous duties, they are largely dependent 
upon their secretaries and other subordinates. Having so 
much to do, even with the best intentions these officials can- 
not fail to make numerous mistakes, and many things must go 
wrong, for which they will be held responsible. The District 
Magistrate, like all Chinese officials, is supposed to have an 
exhaustive acquaintance with everything within his jurisdiction 
which is an object of knowledge, and an unhmited capacity to 
f prevent what ought to be prevented. To facilitate this knowl- 
Jedge and that of the local constables, each city and village is 
idivided into compound atoms composed of ten famihes each. 



MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAW fp 

At every door hangs a placard or tablet upon which is inscribed 
the name of the head of the family, and the number of individ- 
uals which it comprises. This system of registration, analogous 
to the old Saxon tithings and hundreds, makes it easy to fix 
local responsibihty. The moment a suspicious stranger ap- 
pears in the district comprised in a tithing, he is promptly 
reported to the head of the tithing by whoever sees him first. I 
By the head of the tithing he is immediately reported to the 
local constable, and by the local constable to the District 
Magistrate, who at once takes steps "rigorously to seize and 
severely to punish." By the same simple process all local 
crimes, not due to " suspicious-looking strangers " but to per- 
manent residents, axe instantly detected before they have 
hatched into overt acts, and thus the pure morals of the 
people are preserved from age to age. n, 

It is evident that such regulations as these can be efficient 
only in a state of society where fixity of residence is the rule. 
It is also evident that even in China, where the most extreme 
form of permanence of abode is found, vhe system of tithing 
is to a large extent a mere legal fiction. Sometimes a city, 
where no one remembers to have seen them before, suddenly 
blossoms out with ten-family tablets on every door-post, which 
indicates the arrival of a District Magistrate who intends to 
enforce the regulations. In some places these tablets are ob- 
servable in the winter season only, for this is the time when 
bad characters are most numerous and most dangerous. But 
so far as our knowledge extends, the system as such is little 
more than a theoretical reminiscence, and even when observed 
it is probably merely a form. Practically, it is not generally 
observed, and in some provinces at least one may travel for a 
thousand miles, and for months together, and not find ten- 
family tablets posted in more than one per cent, of the cities 
and villages along the route. 

It may be mentioned in passing that the Chinese tithing 



23» CHINESE CH/IR/ICTERISTICS 

system is intimately connected with the so-called census. If 
each doorway exhibits an accurate list, constantly corrected, 
of the number of persons in each family ; if each local con- 
stable has accurate copies of the lists of all the tithings within 
his territory; if each District Magistrate has at his disposal 
accurate summaries of all these items — it is as easy to secure a 
complete and accurate census of the Empire as to do a long 
sum in addition, for the whole is equal to the aggregate of all 
its parts. But these are large ifs, and, as a matter of fact, 
none of the conditions are realised. The tablets are non- 
existent, and when the local magistrate is occasionally called 
upon for the totals which should represent them, neither he 
nor the numerous constables upon whom he is entirely de- 
pendent has the least interest in securing accuracy, which 
indeed from the natxu-e of the case is difficult. There is no 
" squeeze " to be got from a census, and for this reason alone a 
really acciu-ate Chinese census is a mere figment of the imagi- 
nation. Even in the most enhghtened Western lands the notion 
that a census means taxation appears to be ineradicable, but 
in China the suspicion which it excites is so strong, that for 
this reason alone, unless the tithing system were carried out 
with uniform faithfulness in all places and at all times, an ac- 
curate enumeration would be impossible. 

For a local magistrate to be guilty of all kinds of misde- 
meanours for which he gets into no trouble whatever, or get- 
ting into it, escapes scot-free by means of influential friends 
or by a judicious expenditure of silver, and yet after all to lose 
his post on account of something that happened within his 
jurisdiction but which he could not have prevented, is a con- 
stant occurrence. 

How the system of responsibility operates in the domain of 
all the successive grades of officials, it is unnecessary to illus- 
trate in detail. MultipHed examples are found in almost 
every copy of the translations from the Peking Gazette. A 



MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAW ^ 

case was mentioned a few years ago, where a soldier on guard 
had stolen some thirty boxes of bullets placed in his care, and 
sold them to a tinner, who supposed them to be condemned 
and surplus stores. The soldier was beaten one hundred 
blows, and banished to the frontiers of the Empire in penal 
servitude. A petty officer whose duty it was to inspect the | 
stores was condemned to eighty blows and dismissed from 
the service, though allowed to commute his punishment for a 
money payment. The purchasers of the material were consid- 
ered innocent of any blarhe, but on general principles were 
beaten forty blow^s of the light bamboo. The heutenant in 
charge was cashiered in order to be put upon trial for his 
" connivance " in the theft, but he judiciously disappeared. 
The Board to which the memorial was addressed was requested 
to determine the penalty to be inflicted upon the general in 
command, for his share in the matter. Thus each individual 
is a link in the chain which is followed up to the very end, 
and no link can escape by pleading ignorance or inability to 
prevent the crime. / 

Still more characteristic examples of Chinese responsibility 
are furnished by the memorials annually appearing in the 
Peking Gazette, reporting the outbreak of some irrepressible 
river. In the case of a flood in the Yung-ting River in the 
province of Chihli during the summer of 1888, the waters 
came down from the mountains with the velocity of a mill- 
race. The officials seem to have been promptly on hand, 
and to have risked their lives in struggling to do what was 
utterly beyond the powers of man. They were helpless as 
ants under a rain-spout during a summer torrent. But this M 
did not prevent Li Hung-chang from requesting that they 
should be immediately stripped of their buttons, or deprived 
of their rank without being removed from their posts (a fa- uj 
vourite mode of expressing Imperial dissatisfaction), and the 
Governor- General consistently concludes his memorial with t 



234/ CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 



\ the usual request that his own name should be sent to the 
i Board of Punishments for the determination of a penalty to 
; be inflicted upon him for his complicity in the affair. Similar 
• floods have occurred several times since, and upon each occa- 
sion a similar memorial has been presented. The Emperor 
always instructs the proper Board to "take note." In like 
manner the failure of the embankments built a few years ago 
to bring back the Yellow River into its old channel was the 
signal for the degradation and banishment of a great num- 
ber of officers, from the Governor of the province of Honan 
downwards. 

The theory of responsibility is carried upwards with un- 
flinching consistency to the Son of Heaven himself. It is no 
unusual thing for the Emperor in pubUshed edicts to confess 
to Heaven his shortcomings, taking upon himself the blame 
of floods, famines, and revolutionary outbreaks, for which he 
begs Heaven's forgiveness. His responsibility to Heaven is 
as real as that of his officers to himself. If the Emperor 
loses his throne, it is because he has already lost " Heaven's 
decree," which is presumptively transferred to whoever can 
hold the Empire. 
f That aspect of the Chinese doctrine of responsibility which 
I is the most repellent to Western ^standards of thought, is found 
Un the Oriental practice of extinguishing an entire family for 
|the crime of one of its members. Many instances of this sort 
were reported in connection with the T'aip'ing rebellion, and 
more recently the family of the chieftain Yakub Beg, who led 
the Mohammedan rebellion in Turkestan, furnished another. 
These atrocities are not, however, Hmited to cases of overt 
rebellion. In the year 1873 "a Chinese was accused and 
convicted of having broken open the grave of a relative of 
the Imperial family, in order to rob the coflin of certain gold, 
silver, and jade ornaments which had been buried in it. The 
entire family of the criminal, consisting of four generations, 



MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAIV 235 

from a man more than ninety years of age to a female infant 
only a few months old, was exterminated. Thus eleven per- 
sons suffered death for the offence of one. And there was 
no evidence to show that any of them were parties to, or were 
even aware of, his crime." 

The Chinese theory and practice of responsibility has been i 
often cited as one of the causes of the perpetuity of Chinese/ 
institutions. It forges around every member of Chinese soci-l 
ety iron fetters from which it is impossible that he should 
break loose. It constantly violates every principle of justices 
by punishing all grades of officers, as well as private individ- \ 
uals, for occurrences in which they had no part, and of which, \ 
as in the example just cited, they were not improbably utterly 
ignorant. It is the direct cause of deliberate and systematic 
falsification in all ranks of officials, from the very lowest to j 
the very highest. If an officer is responsible for the existence! 
of crimes which he does not find it easy to control, or of which ^| 
he is ignorant till it is too late to prevent them, he will inevi- 
tably conceal the facts so as to screen himself. This is what | 
constantly happens in all departments of the government, to 
the complete subversion of justice, for it is not in human na- 
ture to give truthful reports of events when, in consequence 
of such reports, the person who makes them may be severely 
and unjustly punished. The abuse of this principle alone 
would suffice to account for a large part of the maladminis- 
tration of justice in China, to which our attention is so often 
called. 

An additional evil connected with the official system has 
been noticed by every writer on China. It is the absence of 
independent salaries for the officers, whose allowances are so 
absurdly small that often they would not pay the expenses of 
the yam^n for a day. Besides this, the officials are subject to 
so many forfeitures that it is said that they rarely draw their 
nominal allowances at all, as it would be necessary to pay 



236 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

them all back again in fines. The absolute necessity for levy- 
ing squeezes and taking bribes arises from the fact that there 
is no other way by which a magistrate can exist. 

Still, while we are impressed with flagrant violations of jus- 
tice which the Chinese theory of responsibility involves, it is 
impossible to be blind to its excellences. 

In Western lands, where every one is supposed to be inno- 
cent until he is proved to be guilty, it is exceedingly difficult 
to fix responsibihty upon any particular person. A bridge 
breaks down with a heavy train of cars loaded with passen- 
gers, and an investigation fails to find any one in fault. A 
lofty building falls and crushes scores of people, and while the 
architect is criticised, he shows that he did the best he could 
with the means at his disposal, and no one ever hears of his 
being punished. If an ironclad capsize, or a military cam- 
paign is ruined because the proper preparations were not 
made, or not made in time, eloquent speeches set forth the 
'defects of the system which renders such events possible, but 
no one is punished. The Chinese are far behind us in their 
conceptions of public justice, but might we not wisely learn 
again from them the ancient lesson that every one should be 
held rigidly responsible for his own acts, in order to the secu- 
• rity of the body politic? 

The relation of the Chinese theory of responsibility to for- 
eigners in China is one of great importance. The " Boy," 
into whose hands everything is committed, and who must 
produce every spoon, fork, or curio ; the steward, who takes 
general charge of your affairs, suffering no one but himself to 
cheat you ; the compradore, who wields vast powers but who 
is individually responsible for every piece of property and for 
every one of hundreds of coolies — these types of character we 
still have with us, and shall always have, as long as we have 
anything to do with the Chinese. Innkeepers in China are 
not noted for flagrant virtues of any kind, especially for con- 



MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAW 237 

sideration towards foreign travellers. Yet we have known of 
a Chinese innkeeper who ran half a mile after a foreigner, 
bringing an empty sardine-tin which he supposed to be a for- 
gotten valuable. He knew that he was responsible, unlike 
American hotel-keepers, who coolly notify their guests that 
" the proprietor is not responsible for boots left in the hall to 
be blacked." 

Responsibility for the character, behaviour, and debts of 
those whom they recommend or introduce, is a social obliga- 
tion of recognised force, and one which it behoves foreigners 
deaUng with Chinese to emphasise. The fact that a headman, 
whatever his position, is "responsible" for any and every act 
of omission or commission of all his subordinates, exerts over 
the whole series of Unks in the chain a peculiar influence, 
which has been instinctively appreciated by foreigners in all 
the long history of their dealings with Chinese. There is a 
tradition of a head compradore in a bank, who in the " more 
former days " was called to account because the " Boy " had 
allowed a mosquito to insinuate itself within the mosquito-net 
of the bank manager! If the Chinese perceive that a for- 
eigner is ignorant of the responsibility of his employes, or dis- 
regards it, it will not take them long to act upon this discovery 
in extremely disagreeable ways. 

One of the many admirable qualities of the Chinese is their 
innate respect for law. Whether this element in their charac- 
ter is the effect of their institutions, or the cause of them, we 
do not know. But what we do know is that the Chinese are 
by nature and by education a law-abiding people. Reference 
has been already made to this trait in speaking of the national 
virtue of patience, but it deserves special notice in connec- 
tion with Chinese theories of mutual responsibiUty. In China "^ 
every man, woman, and child is directly responsible to some 
one else, and of this important fact no one for a moment 
loses sight. Though one should " go far and fly high " he 



238 CHINESE CHARy4CTER!STICS 

cannot escape, and this he well knows. Even if he should 
himself escape, his family cannot escape. The certainty of 
this does not indeed make a bad man good, but it frequently 
prevents him from becoming tenfold worse. 

It is an illustration of Chinese respect for law, and all that 
appertains thereto, that it often happens that men of literary 
rank are so terrified in the presence of a District Magistrate 
that they dare not open their mouths unless compelled to do 
so, although the case may not in any way concern themselyes. 
We have indeed known of one instance where a man of this 
class appeared to be thrown into a condition resembling epi- 
lepsy by sheer fright in giving evidence. He was taken home 
in a fit, and soon after died. 

Contrast the Chinese inherent respect for law with the 
spirit often manifested where republican institutions flourish 
most, and manifested, it must be said, by those whose antece- 
dents would least lead us to expect it. College laws, munic- 
ipal ordinances, state and national enactments, are quietly 
defied, as if the assertion of personal hberty were one of the 
greatest needs, instead of one of the principal dangers of the 
time. It is rightly regarded as one of the most serious indict- 
ments against the transaction of Chinese public business of all 
kinds, that every one not only connives at acts of dishonesty 
which it is his duty to prevent and to expose, but that such is 
the constitution of public and private society that every one 
must connive at such acts. But is it less disgraceful that in 
Christian countries men of education and refinement, as well 
as the uncultivated, quietly ignore or deliberately disregard 
the laws of the land as if by common consent, and as if it 
were now a well-ascertained fact that a law is more honoured 
in the breach than in the observance ? How shall we explain 
or defend the existence upon our statute-books of multitu- 
dinous laws which are neither repealed nor enforced — ^laws 
which by their anomalous non-existent existence tend to bring 



MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAiy 239 

all legislation into a common contempt? By what means shall 
we explain the alarming increase of crime in many Western 
lands during the last thirty years? How shall we explain that 
conspicuous indifference to the sacredness of human life which 
is unquestionably a characteristic of some Western lands? It 
is vain to dogmatise in regard to matters which from the na- 
ture of the case are beyond the reach of statistics. Still we 
must confess to a decided conviction that human Ufe is safer 
in a Chinese city than in an American city — safer in Peking 
than in New York. We believe it to be safer for a foreigner 
to traverse the interior of China than for a Chinese to traverse 
the interior of the United States. It must be remembered 
that the Chinese as a whole are quite as ignorant as any body 
of immigrants in the United States, and not less prejudiced. 
They are, as we constantly see, ideal material for mobs. The 
wonder is not that such outbreaks take place, but that they 
have not occurred more frequently, and have not been more 
fatal to the lives of foreigners. 

It is a Chinese tenet that Heaven is influenced by the acts 
and by the spirit of human beings. Upon this principle de- 
pends the efficacy of the self-mutilation on behalf of parents, 
to which reference was made in speaking of filial piety. That 
this is a correct theory we are not prepared to maintain, yet 
certain facts deserve mention which might seem to support it. 
The geographical situation and extent of the Eighteen Prov- 
inces of China bear a marked resemblance to that part of the 
United States of America east of the Rocky Mountains. The 
erratic eccentricities of the climate of the United States are, 
as little Marjorie Fleming remarked of the multiplication table, 
"more than human nature can bear." It was Hawthorne 
who observed of New England that it has " no climate, but 
only samples." Contrast the weather in Boston, New York, 
or Chicago with that of places in the same latitude in China. 
It is not that China is not, as the geographies used to affirm 



240 CHINESE CHMRy4CTERISTICS 

of the United States, "subject to extremes of heat and cold," 
for in the latitude of Peking the thermometer ranges through 
about one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, which ought to afford 
sufficient variety of temperature to any mortal. 

But in China these alternations of heat and cold do not fol- 
low one another with that reckless and incalculable lawless- 
ness witnessed in the great republic, but with an even and 
unruffled sequence suited to an ancient and a patriarchal sys- 
tem. The Imperial almanac is the authorised exponent of the 
threefold harmony subsisting in China between heaven, earth, 
and man. Whether the Imperial almanac is equally trust- 
worthy in all parts of the Emperor's broad domain we do not 
know, but in those regions with which we happen to be famil- 
iar the almanac is itself a signal-service. At the point marked 
for the " establishment of spring," spring appears. In several 
different years we have remarked that the day on which the 
" establishment of autumn " fell was distinguished by a marked 
change in the weather, after which the blistering heats of sum- 
mer returned no more. Instead of allowing the frost to make 
irregular and devastating irruptions in every month of the year 
— as is too often the case in lands where democracy rules — 
the Chinese calendar fixes one of its four-and- twenty " terms " 
as "frost-fall." A few years ago this "term" fell on the 23d 
of October. Up to that day no hghtest frost had been seen. 
On the morning of that day the ground was covered with 
white frost, and continued to be so covered every morning 
thereafter. We have noted these correspondences for some 
years, and have seldom observed a variation of more than the 
usual three days of grace. 

It is not inanimate nature only which in China is amenable 
to reason and to law, but animated nature as well. For some 
years we have noticed that on a particular day in early spring 
the window-frames were adorned with several flies, where for 
many months no flies had been seen, and od each occasion we 



MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAW 241 

have turned to the Imperial almanac with a confidence justi- 
fied by the event, and ascertained that this particular day was 
the one assigned for the " stirring of insects " ! 

It has been remarked that there is in the blood of the Eng- 
hsh-speaking race a certain lawlessness, which makes us in- 
tolerant of rules and restless under restraints. " Our sturdy 
English ancestors," says Blackstone, " held it beneath the con- 
dition of a freeman to appear, or to do any other act, at the 
precise time appointed." But for this trait of our doughty 
forefathers the doctrine of personal liberty and the rights of 
man might have waited long for assertion. 

But now that these rights are tolerably well established, 
might we not judiciously lay somewhat more emphasis upon 
the importance of subordinating the individual will to the 
public good, and upon the majesty of law ? And in these 
directions have we not something to learn from the Chinese? 



CHAPTER XXIV. 



MUTUAL SUSPICION. 



IT is an indisputable truth that without a certain amount of 
'mutual confidence it is impossible for mankind to exist in 
an organised sbciety, especially in a society so highly organised 
and so complex as that of China. Assuming this as an axiom, 
it is not the less.necessary to direct our attention to a series of 
phenomena, which, however inharmonious they may appear 
with oiir theory, are sufficiently real to those who are acquainted 
with China. Much of what we shall have to say of the mutual 
suspicion of the Chinese is by no means peculiar to this peo- 
ple ; it is rather a trait which they share in common with all 
Orientals, the manifestations of which are doubtless much 
modified by the genius of Chinese institutions. The whole 
subject is intimately connected with that of mutual responsi- 
bility, already discussed. Nothing is more likely to excite the 
susptcioh not of the Chinese only but of any human being, 
than the danger that he may be held to account for something 
which has no concern whatever with himself, but the conse- 
quences of which may be most serious. 

The first manifestation which attracts a stranger's attention 
of the chronic suspicion prevaihng in China is the existence 
in all parts of the Empire of lofty walls which enclose all cities. 
The fact that the word for city is in Chinese the equivalent 
for a walled city, is as significant as the fact that in the Latin 
language $he word which denoted army also meant drill or 
practice. The laws of the Empire requite that every city 

342 




J 



u 



o 



o 
0. 



MUTUAL SUSPICION 243 

shall be enclosed by a wall of a specified height. Like ether 
laws this statute is much neglected in the letter, for there are 
many cities the walls of which are allowed to crumble into 
such decay that they are no protection whatever, and we know 
of one district city invested by the T'ai-p'ing rebels and occu- 
pied by them for many months, the walls of which, although 
utterly destroyed, were not restored at all for more than a 
decade afterwards. Many cities have only a feeble mud 
rampart, quite inadequate to keep out even the native dogs, 
which climb over it at will. But in all these cases the occa- 
sion of these lapses from the ideal state of things is simply 
the poverty of the country. Whenever there is an alarm of 
trouble, the first step is to repair the walls. The execution of 
such repairs affords a convenient way in which to fine officials 
or others who have made themselves too rich in too short a 
time. 

The firm foundation on which rest all the many city walls 
in China is the distrust which the government entertains of the 
people. However the Emperor may be in theory the father 
of his people, and his subordinates called " father and mother 
officials," all parties understand perfectly that these are purely 
technical terms, like plus and minus, and that the real relation 
between the people and their rulers is that between children 
and a stepfather. The whole history of China appears to be 
dotted with rebellions, most of which might apparently have 
been prevented by proper action on the part of the general 
government if taken in time. The government does not ex- 
pect to act in time. Perhaps it does not wish to do so, or 
perhaps it is prevented from doing so. Meantime, the people 
slowly rise, as the government knew they would, and the offi- 
cials promptly retire within these ready-made fortifications, 
like a turtle into its shell or a hedgehog within its ball of 
quills, and the disturbance is left to the slow adjustmenj of 
the troops. 



CHINESE CH/IRMCTERISTICS 

The lofty walls which enclose all premises in Chinese, as in 
other Oriental cities and towns, are another exemplification 
of the same traits of suspicion. If it is embarrassing for a 
foreigner to know how to speak to a Chinese of such places 
as London or New York, without unintentionally conveying 
the notion that they are " walled cities," it is not less difficult 
to make Chinese who may be interested in Western lands 
understand how it can be that in those countries people often 
have about their premises no enclosures whatever. The im- 
mediate, although unwarranted, inference on the part of the 
Chinese is that in such countries there must be no bad char- 
acters of any kind. 

(The almost universal massing of the rural Chinese popula- 
tion in villages, which are in reality miniature cities, is another 
illustration of mutual suspicion. The object is protection, not 
from a foreign enemy, but from one another. The only excep- 
tions to this agglomeration of Chinese dwellings with which 
we are acquainted, is in the case of some mountainous regions 
where the land is so barren that it is incapable of supporting 
more than one or two families, the people being so poor that 
they have no dread of thieves, and the province of Szechuan, 
in which, as Mr. Baber mentions, " the farmer and his work- 
people live, it may be said, invariably in farm-houses on their 
land, and the tendency is to the separation rather than to the 
congregation of dwellings." If this exception to the general 
rule was made because the expectation of peace in that re- 
mote province was thought to be greater than in others, as 
Baron von Richthofen suggested, it has proved, as Mr. Baber 
remarks, an expectation which has suffered many and grievous 
disappointments, especially — although after a long-previous 
peace — ^in the days of the T'ai-p'ing rebels. 

A most significant illustration of the Chinese — and also 
Oriental — suspicion found in social life is to be seen in the 
theory and practice in regard to woman. What that theory is 
is sufficiently well known. An entire chapter would scarcely 



MUTUAL SUSPICION 245 

do justice to this branch of the subject. As soon as they 
come to the age of puberty, girls are proverbially a commod- 
ity as " dangerous as Smuggled salt." When once they are 
betrothed they are kept far more secluded than before. The 
smallest and most innocent circumstance is sufficient to start 
vicious and malevolent gossip, and it is a social axiom that 
scandals cluster about a widow's door. While Chinese women 
have incomparably more liberty than their sisters in Turkey 
or in India,* Chinese respect for women cannot be rated as 
high. Universal ignorance on the part of women, universal 
subordination, the existence of polygamy and concubinage — 
these are not good preparations for that respect for woman- 
hood which is one of the fairest characteristics of Western 
civilisation. It would be easy to cite popular expressions in 
illustration of the views which the Chinese hold of women in 
general, and which may be regarded as the generalisations of 
long experience. She is spoken of as if it were her nature to 
be mean, short-sighted, and not to be trusted — she is consid- 
ered to be an incarnation of jealousy, as in the phrase, " it is 
impossible to be more jealous than a woman," where the word 
" jealous " suggests, and is intended to suggest, another word 
with the same sound, but meaning " poisonous." This theory 
is well embodied in a verse of ancient Chinese poetry, of 
which the following Unes are a translation : 

" The serpent's mouth in the green bamboo, 
The yellow hornet's caudal dart ; 
Little the injury these can do ; 

More venomous far is a woman's heart." 

* The existence of this liberty, is not, however, to be judged of by 
superficial indications. A lady who resided for some years in the Indian 
city of Delhi, and subsequently at the capital of the province of Shansi, 
remarked that fewer Chinese women were ordinarily to be seen upon the 
streets of the latter city, than Indian women upon the streets of the former 
one. Yet this circumstance does not at all conflict with the truth of the 
statement to which this note is appended. 



246 CHINESE CH/IRACTERISTICS 

These views are incidentally exemplified with a fine and un- 
conscious impartiality in the very structure of the Chinese 
language, in a manner to which attention has been often 
directed. An excellent scholar in Chinese, in response to a 
request from the writer, examined with care a list of one hun- 
dred and thirty-five of the more common characters which are 
written with the radical denoting woman, and found that 
foiurteen of them conveyed a meaning which might be classed 
as good, such as the words " good," " skilful," and the hke ; 
of the remainder, thirty-five are bad, and eighty-six indifferent 
in meaning. But those classed as bad contain some of the 
most disreputable words in the whole language. The radical 
for woman combined with that denoting shield signifies " de- 
ceitful, fraudulent, villainous, traitorous, selfish " ; while three 
women in combination convey the ideas of " fornicatiouj 
adultery, seduction, to intrigue." 

There are said to be two reasons why people do not trust 
one another: first, because they do not know one another, 
and second, because they do. The Chinese think that they 
have each of these reasons for mistrust, and they act accord- 
ingly. While the Chinese are gifted with a capacity for com- 
bination which at times seems to suggest the union of chemical 
atoms, it is easy to ascertain by careful inquiry at the proper 
sources and at the proper times, that the Chinese do not by 
any means trust one another in the implicit way which the 
external phenomena might imply. Members of the same 
family are constantly the victims of mutual suspicion, which is 
fanned by the women who have married into the family, and 
who as sisters-in-law are able to do much, and who frequently 
do what they can, to foment jealousy between their husbands 
in regard to the division of the proceeds of the common 
labour. 

Not to enlarge upon this aspect of domestic life, which by 
itself might occupy a chapter, we pass to the notice ot the 



MUTUAL SUSPICION 247 

same general state of things among those who are not united 
by the complex ties of Chinese family life. A company of 
servants in a family often stand to one another in a relation 
of what may be called armed neutrality, that is, if they have 
not been introduced by some one who is responsible for them 
all. If anything comes out to the disadvantage of any one 
of them, his first question to himself is not, " How did the 
master find that out?" but "Who told him of me? " Even 
if the servant is well aware that his guilt has been proved, his 
first thought will be to show that some other servant had a 
grudge against him. We have known a Chinese woman to 
change colour and leave a room in great dudgeon on hearing 
loud voices in the yard, because she supposed that as there 
was an angry discussion, it must be about her, whereas the 
matter was in relation to a pile of millet stalks bought for fuel, 
for which a dealer demanded too high a price. 

It is this kind of suspicion which fans the fires of dissension 
that are almost sure to arise when a servant has been unex- 
pectedly discharged. He suspects every one but himself, is 
certain that some one has been speaking ill of him, insists upon 
being told the allegations against him, although he knows that 
there are half a score of reasons, any of which would justify 
his immediate dismissal. His " face " must be secured, and 
his suspicious nature must be gratified. These occurrences 
take place in Chinese families as well as in foreign families 
with Chinese servants, but not in the same degree, because a 
Chinese servant has learned how far he can impose upon the 
good-nature of the foreigner, as he would never think of doing 
in the case of a Chinese master. It is for this reason that so 
many foreigners have in their employ Chinese servants whom 
they ought to have discharged long ago, and would have dis- 
charged if they had dared. They know that the mere pro- 
posal of such a thing will be the stirring up of a hornet's nest, 
the central figure of which will be the accused and "disgraced" 



248 CHINESE CHy4RACTERISTICS 

servant, and they have not the courage to make a strike for 
liberty, lest in the case of failure their condition should be 
worse than before. 

There is a story of an Austrian city which was besieged by 
the Turks in the middle ages, and which was just on the point 
of capture. At a critical moment an Austrian girl bethought 
herself of a number of bee-hives, which she at once brought 
and tumbled over the wall on the Turks, now almost up to the 
parapet. The result was a speedy descent on the part of the 
Turks, and the saving of the city. The tactics of a Chinese 
often resemble that of the Austrian maiden, and his success is 
frequently as signal, for this kind of a disturbance is such that, 
as a Latin professor said of a storm, one would much rather 
"face '\tper alium" than "face it per se." No wonder that 
the adage runs, " If you employ one, do not suspect him ; if 
you suspect him, do not employ him." The Chinese way in 
such cases is simply to close one's eyes and to pretend that 
one does not see, but for a foreigner this may not be so simple 
and easy to achieve. 

We find it necessary to impress upon our children, when 
they come to be of an age to mingle in the world on their own 
accoimt, that it is well not to be too confiding in strangers. 
This kind of caution does not need to be conveyed to the 
Chinese in their early years, for it is taken in with their 
mother's milk. It is a proverb that one man should not enter 
a temple, and that two men should not look together into a 
well. And why, we inquire in surprise, should one man not 
enter a temple court alone? Because the priest may take 
advantage of the opportunity to make away with him! Two 
men should not gaze into a well, for if one of them is in debt 
to the other, or has in his possession something which the 
other wants, that other may seize the occasion to push his 
companion into the well! 

Another class of examples of mutual suspicion are those 



MUTUAL SUSPICION /249 

arising in the ordinary affairs of everyday life. There is^'a 
freedom and an absence of constraint in Western lands which 
in China is conspicuously absent. To us it seems a matter of 
course that the simplest way to do a thing is for that reason 
the best. But in China there are different and quite other 
factors of which account must be taken. While this is true 
in regard to everything, it is most felt in regard to two matters 
which form the warp and woof of the lives of most Chinese — 
money and food. It is very difficult to convince a Chinese 
that a sum of money, which may have been put into the 
hands of another to be divided between many persons, has 
been divided according to the theoretical plan, for he has no 
experience of any divisions of this sort, and he has had ex- 
tended experience of divisions in which various deductions in 
the shape of squeezes were the prominent features. In like 
manner, it is very hard to make an arrangement by which one 
Chinese shall have charge of the food provision for others, in 
which, if close inquiry is made, it shall not appear that those 
who receive the food suppose that the one who provides it is 
retaining a certain proportion for his own use. The dissatis- 
faction in such cases may possibly be wholly suppressed, but 
there is no reason to think that the suspicion is absent because 
it does not manifest itself upon the surface. Indeed, it is 
only a foreigner who would raise the question at all, for the 
Chinese expect this state of things as surely as they reckon on 
friction in machinery, and with equal reason. 

It is the custom of waiters in Chinese inns, upon leaving f 
the room of a guest who has just paid his bill, to shout out 
each item of the account, not in order to sound the praises of 
him who has spent most money — as some travellers have sup- 
posed — ^but for the much more practical purpose of letting the 
other waiters know that the one who thus publicly declares 
the receipts is not secreting a portion of the gratuity, or " wine- 
money," which they invariably expect. 



' 



2 56 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

If any matter is to be accomplished which requires con- 
sultation and adjustment, it will not do in China, as it might 
in any Western land, to send a mere message to be delivered 
at the home of the person concerned, to the effect that such 
and such terms could be arranged. The principal must go 
himself, and he must see the principal on the other side. If 
the latter should not be at home, the visit must be repeated 
until he is found, for otherwise no one would be sure that the 
matter had not been distorted in its transmission through other 
media. 

Frequent references have been made to the social solidarity 
of the Chinese. In some cases the whole family or clan all 
seem to have their fingers in the particular pie belonging to 
some individual of the family. But into such affairs a person 
with a different surname is, if he be a wise p^erson, careful not 
to intrude any of his fingers, lest they be burned. It is indeed 
a proverb that it is hard to give advice to one whose surname 
is different from one's own. What does this fellow mean by 
mixing himself up in my affairs? He musf have an object, 
and it is taken for granted that the object is not a good one. 
If this is true of those who are life-long neighbours and friends, 
how much more is it true of those who are mere outsiders, and 
who have no special relations to the persons addressed. 

The character meaning " outside," has in China a scope and 
a significance which can only be comprehended by degrees. 
The same kind of objection which is made to a foreigner be- 
cause he comes from an " outside " country, is made to a vil- 
lager because he comes from an " outside " village. This is 
true with much greater emphasis if the outsider comes from 
no one knows where, and wants no one knows what. " Who 
knows what drug this fellow has in his gourd?" is the inevita- 
ble inquiry of the prudent Chinese in regard to a fresh arrival. 

If a traveller happens to get astray and arrives at a village 




(J 



o 

03 



X 

(J 



MUTUAL SUSPICION 251 

after dark, particularly if the hour is late, he will often iind 
that no one will even come out of his house to give a simple 
direction. Under these circumstances the writer once wan- 
dered around for several hours, unable to get one of the many 
Chinese who were offered a reward for acting as a guide even 
to listen to the proposal. 

All scholars in Chinese schools spend their time in shouting 
out their lessons at the top of their voices, to the great injury 
of their vocal organs, and to the almost complete distraction 
of the foreigner. This is " old-time custom," but if the inquiry 
for the reason be relentlessly pushed, one is told that without 
this audible assurance the teacher would suspect that his pupils 
were not devoting their exclusive attention to their lessons. 
The singular practice of making each scholar turn his back 
upon the teacher diuring the recitation is Ukewise due to the 
desire of the teacher to be certain that the pupil is not furtively 
glancing at the book held in the master's hand! 

It is not every form of civilisation which emphasises the 
duty of entertaining strangers. Many of the proverbs of Sol- 
omon in regard to caution towards strangers gain a new mean- 
ing after actual contact with Orientals, but the Chinese have 
carried their caution to a point which it would be hard to sur- 
pass. A Chinese teacher employed by a foreigner to pick up 
children's ballads and sayings heard a Uttle boy singing a non- 
sense song which was new to the teacher, who asked the little 
fellow to repeat the words, whereupon the child fled terror- 
stricken and was seen no more. He was a t)'-pical product of 
Chinese environment. If a man has become insane and has 
strayed away from home, and his friends scour the country- 
side, hoping to hear something of him, they know very well 
that the chances of finding traces of him are slight. If he has 
been at a particular place, but has disappeared, the natural 
inquiry of his pursuers would be, What did you do with him? 



252 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

This might lead to trouble, so the safest way, and the one sure 
to be adopted if the inquirer is a stranger, is to assume total 
ignorance of the whole affair. 

The same thing will not seldom happen, as we have learned 
by experience, when a Chinese stranger tries to find a man 
who is well known. In a case of this sort, a man whose ap- 
pearance indicated him to be a native of an adjacent province 
inquired his way to the village of a man of whom he was in 
quest. But on his arrival he was disappointed to find that the 
whole village was unanimous in the affirmation that no such 
man was known there, and that he had never even been heard 
of. This wholesale falsehood was not concocted by any de- 
liberate prevision, for which there was no opportunity, but was 
simultaneously adopted by a whole villageful of people, with 
the same unerring instinct which leads the prairie-dog to dive 
into its hole when some unfamiliar object is sighted. 

In all instances of this kind, the slight variations of local 
dialect afford an infallible test of the general region from 
which one hails. A countryman who meets others will be ex- 
amined by them as to his abode and its distance from a great 
number of other places, as if to make sure that he is not de- 
ceiving them. In the same manner, scholars are not content 
with inquiring of a professed literary graduate when he " en- 
tered," but he will not improbably be cross-examined upon the 
theme of his essay, and how he treated it. In this way it is 
not difficult, and is very common, to expose a fraud. It is 
hopeless for a man to claim to be a native of a district the 
pronunciation of which differs by ever so little from his own, 
for his speech bewrayeth him. Not only will a stranger find 
it hard to get a clue to the whereabouts of a man, his possible 
business with whom excites instantaneous and general suspi- 
cion, but the same thing may be true, as we have also had re- 
peated occasion to know, in regard to a whole village. The 
writer once sent several Chinese to look up certain other 



MUTUAL SUSPICION 253 

Chinese who had been for a long time in a foreign hospital 
under treatment. Very few of them could be found at all. 
In one case a man who ventured to hold conversation with 
the strangers gave his surname only, which was that of a large 
clan, but positively refused to reveal his name, or " style." In 
another instance, a village of which the messengers were in 
search persistently retreated before them, hke an ignus fatuus, 
and at last all traces of it disappeared, without its having been 
found at all! Yet once the strangers were probably within a 
mile or two of it, and in the case just referred to, the stranger 
who could not find the man for whom he was looking, proved 
to have been within ten rods of his dwelling at the time he 
was baffled. 

The writer is acquainted with an elderly man who has a 
well4o-do neighbour with whom he was formerly associated in 
one of the secret sects so common in China. On asking him 
about this neighboiur, whose house was at a little distance from 
his own, it turned out that the two men, who had grown up 
together and had passed more than sixty years in proximity, 
never met. " And why was this? " " Because the other man 
is getting old and does not go out much." " Why, then, do 
you not sometimes go to see him and talk over old times? 
Are you not on good terms? " The person addressed smiled 
the smile of conscious superiority, and shook his head. " Yes," 
he said, " we are on good terms enough, but he is well off, and 
I am poor, and if I were to go there it would make talk. 
Folks would say, What is he coming here for ? " 

A conspicuous illustration of the instinctive recognition by 
the Chinese of the existence of their own mutual suspicion is 
found in the reluctance to be left alone in a room. If this 
should happen, a guest will not improbably exhibit a restless 
demeanour and will perhaps stroll out into the passage, as 
much as to say, " Do not suspect me ; I did not take yoiu: 
things, as you see ; I put them behind me." The same thing 



254 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

is sometimes observed when a self-respecting Chinese calls 
upon a foreigner. 

Nothing is so certain to excite the most violent suspicion on 
the part of the Chinese as the death of a person under circum- 
stances which are in some respects peculiar. A typical ex- 
ample of this is the death of a married daughter. Although, 
as aheady mentioned, the parents are powerless to protect her 
while she Uves, they are in some degree masters of the situation 
when she has died, provided that there is anything to which 
any suspicion can be made to attach itself. Her suicide is an 
occasion on which the girl's parents no longer adopt their pro- 
verbial position of holding down the head, but, on the contrary, 
hold their head erect, and virtually impose their own terms. 
The refusal to come to an understanding with the family of 
the girl under such circumstances would be punished by a long 
and vexatious lawsuit, the motive for which would be in the 
first instance revenge, but the main issue of which would 
eventually be the preservation of the "face" of the girl's 
family. 

There is an ancient saying in China, that when one is walk- 
ing through an orchard where pears are grown it is well not to 
adjust one's cap, and when passing through a melon patch it 
is not the time to lace one's shoes. These sage aphorisms rep- 
resent a generahsed truth. In Chinese social life it is strictly 
necessary to walk softly, and one cannot be too careful. This 
is the reason why the Chinese are so constitutionally reticent 
at times which seem to us so ill-chosen. They know as we 
cannot that the smallest spark may kindle a fire that shall 
sweep a thousand acres. 

The commercial life of the Chinese illustrates their mutual 
suspicion in a great variety of ways. Neither buyer nor seller 
trusts the other, and each for that reason thinks that his in- 
terests are subserved by putting his affairs for the time being 
out of his own hands into those of a third person who is strictly 



MUTUAL SUSPICION 255 

neutral, because his percentage will only be obtained by the 
completion of the bargain. No transaction is considered as 
made at all, until " bargain money " has been paid. If the 
matter is a more comprehensive one, something must be put 
into writing, for " talk is empty, while the mark of a pen is 
final." 

The chaotic condition of the silver market in China is due 
partly to the deep-seated suspicion which cash-shops entertain 
for their customers, and which customers cherish towards the 
cash-shops, in each case with the best grounds. Every chopped 
dollar in south China, every chopped piece of chopped silver 
in any part of China, is a witness to the suspicious nature of 
this great and commercial people ; keen as they are to effect 
a trade, they are keener still in their reluctance to do so. The 
very fact that a customer, whether Chinese or foreign makes 
no difference, wishes to sell silver after dark is of itself suspi- 
cious, and it will not be surprising if every shop in the city 
should successively impart the sage advice to wait till to- 
monrow. 

The banking system of China appears to be very compre- 
hensive and intricate, and we know from Marco Polo that 
bank-bills have been in use from a very ancient period. But 
they are not by any means universal in their occurrence, and 
all of them appear to be exceedingly limited in the range of 
their circulation, The banks of two cities ten miles apart will 
not receive each other's bills, and for a very good reason. 

The high rate of Chinese interest, ranging from twenty-four 
to thirty-six or more per cent., is a proof of the lack of mutual 
confidence. The larger part of this extortionate exaction does 
not represent payment for the use of money, but insurance on 
risk, which is very great. The almost total lack of such forms 
of investments as we are so famiUar with in Western lands is 
due not more to the lack of development of the resources of 
the Empire, than to the general mistrust of one another among 



te,i CHINESE CH/iRACTERISTlCS 

the people. " The affairs of hfe hinge upon confidence," and 
it is for this reason that a large class of affairs in China will 
for a long time to come be dissociated from their hinges, to 
the great detriment of the interests of the people. 

A curious example of Chinese commercial suspicion was 
afforded a few years ago by a paragraph in the newspapers, 
giving an account of the condition of things in the Chinese 
colony in the city of New York. The Chinese organisation 
probably does not differ from that of other cities where the 
Chinese have established themselves. They have a Municipal 
Government of their own, and twelve leading Chinese are the 
officers thereof. They keep the money and the papers of the 
Municipality in a huge iron safe, and to insure absolute safety 
the safe is locked with twelve ponderous brass (Chinese) pad- 
locks all in a row, instead of the intricate and beautiful com- 
bination locks used in the New York banks. Each one of 
the twelve members of the Chinese Board of Aldermen has 
a key to one of these padlocks, and when the safe is opened 
all twelve of them must be on hand, each to attend to the un- 
locking of his own padlock. One of these distinguished alder- 
men having inopportunely died, the affairs of the Mimicipality 
were thrown into the utmost confusion. The key to his pad- 
lock could not be found, and if it had been found no one 
would have ventured to take the place of the deceased, through 
a superstitious fear that the dead man would be jealous of his 
successor, and would remove him by the same disease of which 
he himself had died. Even the funeral bills could not be paid 
until a special election had taken place to fill the vacancy. 
This little incident is indeed a window through which those 
who choose to do so may see some of the prominent traits of 
the Chinese character clearly illustrated — capacity for organisa- 
tion, commercial ability, mutual suspicion, unlimited credulity, 
and tacit contempt for the institutions and inventions of the 
ymen of the West. 



MUTUAL SUSPICION as 7 

The structure of the Chinese government contains many 
examples of the effects of lack of confidence. Eunuchs are 
an essentially Asiatic instance in point, and they are supposed 
to have existed in China from very ancient times ; but during 
the present dynasty this dangerous class of persons has been 
dealt with in a very practical way by the Manchus, and de- 
prived of the power to do the same mischief as in past ages. 

Another example of the provision for that suspicion which 
must inevitably arise when such inharmonious elements as the 
conquerors and the conquered are to be co-ordinated in high 
places, is the singular combination of Manchus and Chinese 
in the administration of the government, as well as the arrange- 
ment by which the president of one of the Six Boards may be 
the vice-president of another. By these checks and balances 
the equiUbrium of the state machinery has been preserved. 
The censorate furnishes another illustration of the same thing, 
on an extended and important scale. 

Those whose knowledge of the interior workings of the 
Chinese administration entitles their opinions to weight, assure 
us that the same mutual suspicion which we have seen to be 
characteristic of the social hfe of the Chinese is equally char- 
acteristic of their official life. It could not indeed be other- 
wise. Chinese nature being what it is, high oificials cannot 
but be jealous of those below them, for it is from that quarter 
that their rivals are to be dreaded. The lower officials, on the 
other hand, are not less suspicious of those above them, for it 
is from that quarter that their removal may be at any moment 
effected. There seems the best reason to believe that both 
the higher and the lower officials alike are more or less jealous 
of the large and powerful hterary class, and the officials are 
uniformly suspicious of the people. This last state of mind is 
well warranted by what is known of the multitudinous semi- 
political sects, with which the whole Empire is honeycombed. 
A District Magistrate will pounce down upon the annual gath- 



258 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

ering of a temperance society such as the well-known Tsai-K, 
which merely forbids opium, wine, and tobacco, and turn over 
their anticipated feast to the voracious " wolves and tigers " 
of his yam^n, not because it is proved that the designs of the 
Tsai-li Society are treasonable, but because it has been offi- 
cially assumed long since that they must be so. All secret 
societies are treasonable, and this among the rest. This 
generalised suspicion settles the whole question, and whenever 
occasion arises the government interposes, seizes the leaders, 
banishes or exterminates them, and thus for the moment 
allays its suspicions. 

It is obvious that so powerful a principle as the one which 
we are considering must be a strong reinforcement of that 
innate conservatism which has been already discussed, to pre- 
vent the adoption of what is new. The census which is occa- 
sionally called for by the government does not occur with 
sufficient frequency to make it familiar to the Chinese, even 
in name. It always excites an immediate suspicion that some 
ulterior end is in view. How real this suspicion is, is illus- 
trated by an incident which occurred in a village next to the 
one in which the writer lived. One of two brothers, hearing 
that a new census had been ordered, took it for granted that 
it signified compulsory emigration. It is customary in such 
cases to leave one brother at home to look after the graves 
of the ancestors, but the younger of the two, foreseeing that 
he must go, promptly proceeded to save himself from the 
fatigues of a long journey by committing suicide, thus check- 
mating the government. 

It is a mixture of suspicion and of conservatism which has 
made the path of the young Chinese who were educated in 
the United States such a bed of thorns from the time of their 
retimi to the present day; it is the same fell combination 
which shows itself in opposition to the inevitable introduction 
of railways into China. Suspicion of the motives of the gov- 



MUTUAL SUSPICION «59 

emment will long prevent the reforms which China needs. 
More than thirty years ago, when the importance of the issue 
of small silver comage was pointed out to a distinguished 
statesman in Peking, he repUed — with great truth — that it 
would never do to attempt to change the currency of the 
Empire. " Were it to be tried, the people would immediately 
suppose that the government gained some advantage by it, 
and it would not work." 

Great obstacles are invariably thrown in the way of the 
opening of mines, which, if properly worked, might make 
China what she ought to be, a rich country. The "earth 
dragon " below ground, and peculation and suspicion above 
it, are as yet too much for anything more than the most rudi- 
mentary steps of progress in this most essential direction. No 
matter how great advantages may be or how obvious, it is 
almost impossible to get new things introduced when an all- 
pervading suspicion frowns upon them. The late Dr. Nevius, 
who did so much at Chefoo for the cultivation of a high 
grade of foreign fruits in China, fruits which visibly yield an 
enormous profit, was obliged to contend against this suspicion 
at every step, and one less patient and less philanthropic 
would have abandoned the project in disgust. When profits 
are once assured this state of things of course gradually dis- 
appears. But it is very real when inquiries are set on foot 
Hke those by the Imperial Maritime Customs in regard to the 
raising of silk-worms or tea. How can those who are inter- 
ested in these matters possibly believe, in defiance of all the 
accumulated experience of past ages, that the object of these 
inquiries is not a tax, but the promotion of production and the 
increase of the profits of skilled labom- ? Who ever heard of 
such a thing, and who can believe it when he does hear it ? The 
attitude of the Chinese mind towards such projects as this may 
be expressed in the old Dutch proverb, "Good-morrow to 
you all, as the fox said when he leaped into the goose-pen! " 



36o • CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

It remains to speak of the special relations of this topic to 
foreigners. The profound suspicion with which foreigners are 
regarded is often accompanied by, and perhaps largely due 
to, a belief, deep-rooted and ineradicable, that foreigners are 
able to do the most impossible things with the greatest ease. 
If a foreigner walks out in a place where he has not been 
often seen, it is inferred that he is inspecting the feng-shui of 
the district. If he surveys a river, he is determining the exist- 
ence of precious metals. He is supposed to be able to see 
some distance into the earth, and to have his eyes on what- 
ever is best worth taking away. If he engages in famine re- 
lief, it is not thought too much to suppose that the ultimate 
object must be to carry off a large part of the population of 
the district, to be disposed of in foreign lands. It is by reason 
of these opinions on fing-shui that the presence of foreigners 
on the walls of Chinese cities has so often led to disturbances, 
and that the height of foreign buildings in China must be as 
carefully regulated as the location of a frontier of the Empire. 
The beUef in the uniformity of nature appears to be totally 
lacking in China. Mr. Baber mentions a saying in Szechuan 
of a certain hill, that opium grows without, and coal within. 
But this is not simply a notion of the ignorant, for Professor 
Pumpelly declares that one of the high officials in Peking told 
him the same thing, and used the statement as an argument 
against the too rapid removal of coal deposits, the rate of the 
growth of which is unknown. It is said that the late states- 
man Wen Hsiang, having read Dr. Martin's " Evidences of 
Christianity," was asked what he thought of it, to which he 
replied that the scientific part of the work he was prepared to 
accept, but the religious sections, in which the affirmation is 
made that the earth revolves around the sun, were more than 
he could beUeve! 

The whole subject of the entrance of foreigners into China 
is beyond the Chinese intellect in its present state of develop- 



MUTUAL SUSPICION a6i 

ment. Seeing Baron von Richthofen ride over the country 
in what appeared to the people of Szechuan a vague and 
purposeless manner, they imagined him to be a fugitive from 
some disastrous battle. Many a Chinese, who has afterwards 
come to understand the foreign barbarian all too well, has at 
first sight of his form, especially if he chanced to be tall, been 
seized with secret terror. Many Chinese women are persuaded 
that if they once voluntarily enter a foreigner's dwelling the 
fatal spell will work, and they will be bewitched ; if they are 
at last prevailed upon to enter, they will not on any account 
step on the threshold, nor look into a mirror when it may be 
offered to their sight, for thus they would betray away their 
safety. 

A few years ago a young Chinese scholar from an inte- 
rior province, where foreigners were practically unknown, was 
engaged with some difficulty to come to the premises of the 
writer to assist a new-comer in acquiring the language. He 
remained a few weeks, when he recollected that his mother 
was very much in need of his fihal care, and left, promising to 
return at a fixed date, but was seen no more. Diuing all the 
time that he was on the foreigner's premises, this astute Con- 
fucianist never once took a sip of tea, which was brought to 
him regularly by the servants, nor ate a meal on the place, lest 
he should imbibe besotment. When a foreign envelope was 
handed to him by another teacher, that he might enclose the 
letter which he had written to his mother assuring her that 
thus far he was safe, and when it was shown him how this 
same envelope was self-sealing, a little moisture being appUed 
by the tongue, his presence of mind did not for an instant 
forsake him, and he blandly requested the other teacher to do 
the sealing, as he was not expert at it. 

It is this frame of mind which leads to the persistent notions 
in regard to Chinese books printed by foreigners. There is a 
widespread conviction that they are drugged, and the smell of 



262; CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 



printer's ink is frequently identified as that of the " bewildering 
drug " which is embodied in their composition. Sometimes 
one hears that it is only necessary to read one of these books, 
and forthwith he is a slave to foreigners. A slightly different 
point of view was that taken by a lad of whom we have heard, 
who, having read a little way in one of these tracts, threw it 
down in terror and ran home, telling his friends that if one 
should read that book and tell a He, he would inevitably go to 
hell! Sometimes colporteurs have found it impossible to give 
away these books, not, as might be supposed, because of any 
hostility to the contents, of which nothing was known and for 
which nothing was cared, but because it was feared that the 
gift would be made the basis on which to levy a kind of 
blackmail, in a manner with whtch the Chinese are only too 
famihar. 

The same presupposition leads to a panic if a foreigner 
injudiciously attempts to take down the names of Chinese 
children, a simple process which has been known to be emi- 
nently successful in breaking up a prospective school. The 
system of romanising Chinese characters must in its initial 
stages meet this objection and suspicion. Why should a for- 
eigner wish to teach his pupils to write in such a way that 
their friends at home cannot read what they say? All the 
explanations in the world will not suffice to make this clear to 
a suspicious old Chinese who knows that what has been good 
enough for the generations that have come before his children 
is good enough for them, and much better than the invention 
of some foreigner of unknown antecedents. It may almost 
be said that a general objection is entertained to anything 
which a foreigner proposes, and often for the apparent reason 
that he proposes it. The trait of " flexible inflexibihty " leads 
your Chinese friend to assure you in the blandest but most 
unmistakable terms, that your proposal is very admirable and 
very preposterous. 



MUTUAL SUSPICION 263 

Sarcasm is a weapon which, in the hands of a foreigner, is 
not at all to the taste of the Chinese. A foreigner whose 
knowledge of Chinese was by no means equal to the demands 
which he wished to make upon it, in a fit of deep disgust at 
some sin of omission or commission on the part of one of his 
servants, called him in English a " humbug." " Deep ranklea 
in his side the fatal dart," and at the earhest opportunity the 
servant begged of a lady whose Chinese was fully equal to the 
tax upon it, to be told what the dreadful word meant which 
had been thus applied to him. The mandarins who seized 
upon the blocks of Mr. Thom's translation of ".(Esop's Fables" 
were in the same frame of mind as the Peking servant. These 
oificials could not help perceiving in the talking geese, tigers, 
foxes, and Kons some recondite meaning which could be best 
nipped in the bud by suppressing the entire edition. 

Some of the most persistent instances of Chinese suspicion 
towards foreigners are manifested in connection with the many 
hospitals and dispensaries now scattered over so large a part 
of China. Amid the vast number of patients there are many 
who exhibit an implicit faith and a touching confidence in the 
good-will and the skill of the foreign physician. But there 
are many others, of whose feelings we know much less, except 
as the result of careful inquiry, who continue to believe the 
most irrational rumours in regard to the extraction of eyes and 
hearts for medicine, the irresistible propensity of the surgeon 
to reduce his patients to mince-meat, and the fearful disposi- 
tion said to be made of Chinese children in the depths of for- 
eign cellars. A year or two of experience of the widespread 
benefits of such an institution might be expected to dissipate 
such idle rumours as the wind disperses a mist ; but they con- 
tinue to flourish side by side with tens of thousands of success- 
ful treatments, as mould thrives in warm damp spots during 
the month of August. 

The whole history of foreign intercourse with China is a 



364 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

history of suspicion and prevarication on the part of the Chi- 
nese, while it doubtless has not been free from grave faults on 
the side of foreigners. It is a weary history to retrace, and its 
lessons may be relegated to those who are charged with the 
often thankless task of conducting such negotiations. But as 
it often happens that private persons are obliged to be their 
own diplomats in China, it is well to know how it should 
be done. We will give a sample case which is an excellent 
illustration. The question was about the renting of some 
premises in an interior city, to which a local official on various 
grounds took exception. The foreigner presented himself at 
the interview which had been arranged, clad in the Chinese 
dress, and armed with the necessary materials for writing. 
After the preliminary conversation the foreigner slowly opened 
his writing materials, adjusted his paper, shook out his pen, 
examined his ink, with an air of intense preoccupation. The 
Chinese oiBcial was watching this performance with the keenest 
interest and the liveliest curiosity. " What are you doing ? " 
he inquired. The foreigner explained that he was simply 
getting his writing materials in order — " only that and nothing 
more." "Writing materials! What for? " "To take down 
your answers," was the reply. The official hastened to assure 
his foreign guest that this extremity would by no means be 
called for, as the premises could be secured. i How could this 
magistrate be sm-e where he should next hear of this mysteri- 
ous document, the contents of which he could not possibly 
know? 

China is a country which abounds in wild rumours, often of 
a character to fill the heart with dread. Within the past few 
years such a state of things has been reported among the 
Chinese in Singapore that coohes positively refused to travel a 
certain street after dark, on account of the imminent danger 
of having their heads suddenly and mysteriously cut off. The 
Empire is probably never free from such epochs of horror ; to 



MUTUAL SUSPICION 



265 



I 



those concerned the terrors are as real as those of the French 
Revolution to the Parisians of 1789. Infinite credulity and 
mutual suspicion are the elements of the soil in which thesel 
tearful rumours thrive, and on which they fatten. When they 
have to do with foreigners, long and painful experience has 
shown that they must not be despised, but must be taken in 
the early stages of their development. None of them could' 
do serious harm if the local oflScials were only sincerely inter- 
ested to stamp them out. In their ultimate outcome, when 
they have been suffered to grow unchecked, these rumoun 
result in such atrocities as the Tientsin massacre. All parts ofl 
China are well adapted to their rapid development, and then 
is scarcely a province where they have not in some form oc- 
curred. For the complete removal of these outbreaks, the] 
time element is as necessary as for the results of geologic 
epochs. The best way to prevent their occurrence is to conA ; . / 
vince the Chinese, by irrefragable object-lessons, that foreign-/ '-^^ "' '' -;. 
ers are the sincere well-wishers of the Chinese. This simple ) "^CA C "^-MfjL^ 
proposition once firmly established, then for the first time will f'AA^U 

it be true that " within the four seas, all are brethren." 



CHAPTER XXV. 



THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY. 




I 



THE Chinese ideograph which is commonly translated 
S" sincerity^* is composed of the radicals denoting man 
I and words. Its meaning lies upon the surface. It is tlSgjasf) 
in the series of the Five Constant Virtues enumerated by the 
Chinese, and in the opinion of many who are well acquainted 
with them it is in fact about the last virtue which in the Celes- 
tial Empire is likely to be met with on any considerable scale. 
Many who know the Chinese will agree with the observation 
of Professor Kidd, who, after speaking of the Chinese doc- 
trine of " sincerity," continues : " But if this virtue had been 
chosen as a national characteristic, not only to be set at de- 
fiance in practice, but to form the most striking contrast to 
existing manners, a more appropriate one than sincerity could 
[not have been found. So opposed is the public and private 
Icharacter of the Chinese to genuine sincerity, that an enemy 
night have selected it as ironically descriptive of their con- 
iuct in contrast with their pretensions. Falsehood, duplic- 
ity, insincerity, and obsequious accommodation to favourable 
eircumstances are national features remarkably prominent." 
How far this judgment is justified by the facts of Chinese life 
we may be able better to decide when we shall have consid- 
ered those facts in detail. 

We have assumed that it is a reasonable theory, and one 
which we believe is supported by the opinion of competent 

266 



THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY / 26t/ 

l^ 

scholars, that the Chinese of the present day do not differ to 
any great extent from the Chinese of antiquity. There can 
hardly be a doubt that the standard of the Chinese and the 
present standard of Western nations as to what ought to be 
called sincerity differ widely. He who peruses the Chinese 
Classics with a discerning eye will be able to read between 
the lines much indirection, prevarication, and falsehood which 
are not distinctly expressed. He will also find the Chinese 
opinion of Occidental openness condensed into the significant 
expression, " Straightforwardness without the rules of propri- 1 , 
ety becomes rudeness." To an Occidental there is a signifi- I 
cance in the incident related of Confucius and Ju-pei, as found 
in the Confucian "Analects," which is not at all apprehensible 
to a Confucianist. The following is the passage, from Legge's 
translation : " Ju-pei wished to see Confucius, but Confucius 
declined to see him on the ground of being sick. When the 
bearer of this message went out at the door, Confucius took 
his harpsichord, and sang to it, in order that Ju-pei might 
hear." The object of Confucius was to avoid the disagree- 
able task of saying that the character of Ju-pei was not such 
that Confucius wished to meet him, and he took this charac- 
teristically Chinese way to do it. 

The example of Confucius in this matter was followed by 
Mencius. Being a guest in a certain kingdom he was invited 
to court, but hoping that the king would honour him by the 
first call, Mencius alleged sickness, and the next day, to show 
that this was a mere excuse made a call elsewhere. The 
officer with whom Mencius spent the night held a long con- 
versation with the Sage as to the merits of this proceeding, 
but the discussion between them turns exclusively on the ques- 
tion of propriety and precedent, and no reference whatever to 
the morality of lying for the sake of convenience. There is 
no apparent reason to suppose that this point was ever thought 
of by any of the persons concerned, any more than it is by a 



\ 



268 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

modern Confucian teacher who explains the passage to his 
pupils. 

There is no doubt that the -ancient Chinese were far in 
advance of their contemporaries in many other lands in the 
instinct of preserving records of the past. Their histories, 
however prolix, are undoubtedly comprehensive. Many West- 
ern writers seem to feel the greatest admiration for Chinese 
histories, and place unrestricted confidence in their statements. 
The following paragraph is taken from an essay by Dr. J. 
Singer, lector of the University of Vienna, translated and pub- 
lished in the China Review, "ivi^y, 1888: "Scientific criticism 
has long ago recognised and in ever-increasing extent proved 
the historical reliability of the ancient doctraients of China. 
Richthofen, for instance, the latest and most thorough-going 
explorer of China, in discussing the surprisingly contradictory 
elements which make up the character of the Chinese as p 
people, contrasts their strict truthfulness in recording historical 
events and their earnestness in the search for correct knowl- 
edge, whenever statistical facts are concerned, with that abso- 
lute and generally sanctioned license in lying and dissimulation 
which prevails everywhere in China, in popular intercourse 
and in diplomatic negotiations." It should be borne distinctly 
in mind that historical accuracy may be exhibited in two 
widely different lines: the narration of events in due order 
and proportion, and the explanation of those events by an 
analysis of character and motives. It is said by those who 
have looked into Chinese histories most extensively, that 
while in the former particular these works are no doubt far in 
advance of the times in which they were written, in the latter 
i particular they are by no means adapted to carry the impres- 
sion of that scrupulosity which Dr. Singer supposes. Without 
expressing any opinion on a subject of which we have no spe- 
cial knowledge, we will merely call attention to the singular, 
if not unprecedented, circumstance that a nation which is 




THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 

affirmed to indulge in a license for lying, can at the same timelA 
furnish successive generations of historiographers who are 
reverent of the truth. Do not the same passions which have ' 
distorted the history of other lands operate in China? Do 
not the same causes produce in China the same effects as in 
the rest of the world ? / 

It is important to bear in mind that not only is the teaching . 
of Confucianism greatly defective in the particular noted, but 
the practice of the great Master himself is not such as to com- ^ 
mend historical fidelity. Dr. Legge, who does not lay much*' 
stress on " certain charges which have been made from un- 
important incidents in the Sage's career," attaches great 
importance to the manner in which Confucius handled his 
materials in the " Spring and Autumn Annals," a work which 
contains the record of the kingdom of Lu for two hundred 
and forty-two years, down to within two years of Confucius' 
death. The following paragraphs are taken from Dr. Legge's 
lectOTe on Confucianism, published in his volume on "The 
ReUgions of China " : " Mencius regarded the Ch'un Ch'iu 
[" Spring and Autumn Annals "] as the greatest of the Mas- 
ter's achievements, and says that its appearance struck terror 
into rebeUious ministers and unfihal sons. The author him- 
self had a similar opinion of it, and said that it was from it 
men would know him, and also (some of them) condemn him. 
Was his own heart misgiving him when he thus spoke of men 
condemning him for the Ch'un Ch'iu ? The fact is that the 
annals are astonishingly meagre, and not only so, but evasive 
and deceptive. 'The Ch'un Ch'iu' says Kung Yang, who 
commented on it, and supplemented it within a centiffy after 
its composition, " conceals [the truth] out of regard to the high 
in rank, to kinship, and to men of worth.' And I have shown 
in the fifth volume of my ' Chinese Classics ' that this ' con- 
cealing ' covers all the ground embraced in our three EngUsh 
words — ^ignoring, concealing, and misrepresenting. What 




CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

'shall we say to these things ? . . . I often wish that I could 
cut the knot by denying the genuineness and authenticity of 
the ' Spring and Autumn ' as we now have it ; but the chain 
of evidence that binds it to the hand and pencil of Confucius 
in the close of his life is very strong. And if a foreign student 
take so violent a method to enable him to look at the charac- 
ter of the philosopher without this flaw of historical untruthful- 
ness, the governors of China and the majority of its scholars 
will have no sympathy with him, and no compassion for his 
mental distress. Truthfulness was one of the subjects that 
IConfucius often insisted on with his disciples ; but the Ch'un 
\Ch'iu has led his countrymen to conceal the truth from them- 
selves and others wherever they think it would injuriously 
affect the reputation of the Empire or of its sages." 

We have just seen that those who claim truthfulness for the 
Chinese in their histories are ready enough to admit that in 
China truth is confined to histories. It is of course impossible 
to prove that every Chinese will he, and we have no wish to 
do so if it were possible. The strongest testimony on this 
point can be gathered from the Chinese themselves, whenever 
their consciences have been sufficiently awakened and their 
attention directed to the matter. Such persons are frequently 
heard to say of their race, as the South Sea Island chief said 
of his : " As soon as we open our mouths a lie is bom." To 
us, however, it does not seem that the Chinese lie for the sake 
of lying, as some have supposed, but mainly for the sake of 
certain advantages not otherwise to be had. " Incapable of 
speaking the truth," says Mr. Baber, " they are equally in- 
capable of believing it." A friend of the writer received a 
visit from a Chinese lad who had learned Enghsh, and who 
wished to add to his vocabulary an expression meaning " You 
lie." He was told the phrase, but cautioned not to use it to 
a foreigner, as the result would certainly be that he would 
be knocked down. He expressed unfeigned surprise at this 



THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 271 

Strange announcement, for to his mind the words conveyed a 
meaning as harmless as the remark, "You are humbugging 
me." Mr. Cooke, the China correspondent of the London 
limes in 1857, speaking of the antipathy of Occidentals to be 
called hars, observes : " But if you say the same thing to a 
Chinaman, you arouse in him no sense of outrage, no sen- 
timent of degradation. He does not deny the fact. His 
answer is, ' I should not dare to lie to your Excellency.' To 
say to a Chinaman, ' You are an habitual liar, and you axe 
meditating a lie at this moment,' is like saying to an English- 
man, 'You are a confirmed punster, and I am satisfied you 
have some horrible pun in your head at this moment.'" 

The ordinary speech of the Chinese is so full of insincerity, 
which yet does not rise to the dignity of falsehood, that it is 
very difficult to learn the truth in almost any case. In China 
it is literally true that a fact is the hardest thing in the world 
to get. One never feels sure that he has been told the whole 
of anything. Even where a person is seeking your help, as, 
for example, in a lawsuit, and wishes to put his case entirely 
in your hands, nothing is more probable than that you will 
discover subsequently that several important particulars have 
been suppressed, apparently from the general instinct of pre- 
varication and not of malice prepense, since the person him- 
self must be the only loser by the suppression. The whole of 
anything does not come out till afterwards, no matter at what 
point you take it up. A person who is well acquainted with 
the Chinese will not feel that he understands a matter because 
he has heard all about it, but will rather take the items which 
he has heard and combine them with others, and finally call a 
coxmcil of the Chinese whom he trusts most and hold a kind 
of inquest over these alleged facts to ascertain what their real 
bearing probably is. 

Lack of sincerity, combined with the suspicion which has 
been akeady discussed, accounts for the fact that a Chines? 



372 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

will often talk for a very great length of time, saying practi- 
cally nothing whatever. Much of the incomprehensibility of 
the Chinese, so far as foreigners are concerned, is due to their 
insincerity. We cannot be sure what they are after. We 
always feel that there is more behind. It is for this reason 
that when a Chinese comes to you and whispers to you mys- 
teriously something about another Chinese in whom you are 
much interested, you are not unKkely to experience a sink- 
ing sensation in the pit of the stomach. You are uncertain 
whether the one who is speaking is telling the truth, or whether 
the character of the one of whom he is speaking has caved in. 
One never has any assurance that a Chinese ultimatum is ulti- 
mate. This proposition, so easily stated, contains in itself the 
germ of multitudinous anxieties for the trader, the traveller, 
and the diplomatist. 

The real reason for anything is hardly ever to be expected, 
and even when it has been given, one cannot be sure of this 
fact. Every Chinese, the uneducated not less than others, is 
by nature a kind of cuttle-fish capable of distilling any amount 
of turbid ink, into which he can retreat with the utmost safety 
so far as pursuit is concerned. If you are interviewed on a 
journey and invited to contribute to the travelling-expenses of 
some impecunious individual who hopes to exploit a new field, 
your attendant does not say, as you would do, "Your ex- 
penses are none of my affair, begone with you!" but "with 
a smile that is child-like and bland," he explains that your 
allowance of money is barely sufficient for your own use, and 
so you will be deprived of the pleasure of contributing to your 
fellow-traveller. We have seldom met a Chinese gate-keeper 
who would say to a Chinese crowd, as a foreigner tells him to 
do, " You cannot come in here," but he will observe instead, 
that they must not come in, because the big dog will bite them 
if they do. 

There are few Chinese who have any well-developed con- 



THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 273 

science on the subject of keeping an engagement. This char- 
acteristic is connected with their talent for misunderstanding, 
and with their disregard of time. But whatever the real reason 
for the failure, it is interesting to see what a variety of alleged 
reasons exist for it. The Chinese in general resemble the man 
who, being accused of having broken his promise, replied that 
it was of no consequence, as he could make another just as 
good. If it is a fault for which he is reproved, promises of 
amendment flow in limpid streams from his lips. His acknowl- 
edgments of wrong are complete — in fact, too complete, and 
leave nothing to be desired but sincerity. 

A Chinese teacher who was employed in inditing and com- 
menting upon Chinese aphorisms, after writing down a fine 
sentiment of the ancients, made an annotation to the effect 
that one should never refuse a request in an abrupt manner, 
but shoidd, on the contrary, grant it in form, although with 
no intention to do so in substance. " Put him off till to-mor- 
row, and then until another to-morrow. Thus," he remarked 
in his note, "you comfort his heart! " So far as we know 
the principle here avowed is the one which is generally acted 
upon by the Chinese who have debts for which pajrment is 
sought. No one expects to collect his debt at the time that 
he applies for it, and he is not disappointed ; but he is told 
most positively that he will get it the next time, and the next, 
and the next. 

One .of the ways in which the native insincerity of the 
Chinese is most characteristically manifested is their demean- 
our towards children, who are taught to be insincere without 
consciousness of the fact either on their own part or on the 
part of those who teach them. Before he is old enough to 
talk, and when he can attach only the vaguest significance to 
the words which he hears, a child is told that unless he does 
as he is bid some terrific object, said to be concealed in the 
sleeve of a grown person, will catch him. It is not uncom- 



274 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

mon for foreigners to be put in the place of the unknown mon- 
ster, and this fact alone would be sufficient to account for all 
the bad words which we frequently hear applied to ourselves. 
Why should not children who may have been affrighted with 
our vague terrors when they were young, hoot us in the streets 
as soon as they have grown large enough to perceive that we 
are not dangerous but only ridiculous? 

The carter who is annoyed by the urchins in the street yell- 
ing after his foreign passenger, shouts to them that he wUl cap- 
ture several of them, tie them on behind his cart and carry 
them off. The boatman under like provocation contents him- 
self with the observation that he will pour scalding water 
upon them. The expressions, " I'll beat you," " I'll kill you," 
are understood by a Chinese child of some experience to con- 
stitute an ellipsis for "Stop that!" 

There is in Chinese a whole vocabulary of words which are 
indispensable to one who wishes to pose as a " pohte " person, 
words in which whatever belongs to the speaker is treated 
with scorn and contempt, and whatever relates to the person 
addressed is honourable. The " polite " Chinese will refer to 
his wife, if driven to the extremity of referring to her at all, as 
his " dull thorn," or in some similar elegant figure of speech, 
while the rustic, who grasps at the substance of "politeness," 
although ignorant of its formal expression, perhaps alludes 
to the companion of his joys and sorrows as his "stinking 
woman." This trait of Chinese etiquette is not inaptly pre- 
sented in one of their own tales, in which a visitor is repre- 
sented as calling clad in his best robes, and seated in the 
reception-room awaiting the arrival of his host. A rat which 
had been disporting itself upon the beams above, insinuating 
its nose into a jar of oil which was put there for safe-keeping, 
frightened at the sudden intrusion of the caller, ran away, and 
in so doing upset the oil-jar, which fell directly on the caller, 
striking him a severe blow, and ruining his elegant garments 



THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 275 

with the saturation of the oil. Just as the face of the guest 
was purple with rage at this disaster, the host entered, when 
the proper salutations were performed, after which the guest 
proceeded to explain the situation. "As I entered your 
honourable apartment and seated myself under your honour- 
able beam, I inadvertently terrified your honourable rat, which 
fled and upset your honourable oil-jar upon my mean and in- 
significant clothing, which is the reason of my contemptible 
appearance in your honourable presence." 

That very few foreigners can ever bring themselves to give 
Chinese invitations in a Chinese way, .goes without saying. It 
requires long practice to bow cordially to a Chinese crowd as 
one goes to a meal, and remark blandly, " Please all sit down 
and eat," or to sweep a cup of tea in a semicircle just as it is 
raised to the lips, and, addressing one's self to the multitude, 
observe with gravity, " Please all drink." Not less real is the 
moral difficulty of exclaiming at suitable situations, "K'o-t'ou, 
k'o-t'ou" signifying, " I can, may, must, might, could, would, 
or should " (as the case may be) " give you a prostration " ; or 
of occasionally interjecting the observation, " I ought to be 
beaten, I ought to be killed," meaning that I have offended 
against some detail of the rules of etiquette ; or of stopping in 
the midst of a horseback ride, upon meeting a casual acquaint- 
ance, and proposing to him, ''/ will get off and you shall 
mount," quite irrespective of the direction in which you may 
be travelling, or the general irrationality of the procedure. 
Yet the most ignorant and uncultivated Chinese will frequently 
give these invitations with an air, which, as already remarked, 
extorts admiration from the most unsympathetic Occidental, 
who pays the unconscious tribute of him who cannot to him 
who can. Such little ceremonies, as we have had repeated 
occasion to observe, are enforced contributions on the part of 
individuals to society at Vge, that friction may be diminished, 
and he who refuses to contribute will be punished in a man- 



276 CHINESE CH/IR/ICTERISTICS 

ner not the less real because it is oblique. Thus a carter who 
neglects to take his cue down from his head and descend from 
his cart when he has occasion to inquire the way, will not 
improbably be given a wrong direction, and reviled besides. 

To be able to determine what is the proper thing to be 
done when Orientals oiler presents, is in itself a science, and 
perhaps as much so in China as in other countries. Some 
things must not be accepted at all, while others must not be 
altogether refused, and there is generally a broad debatable 
land, in regard to which a foreigner can be sure of nothing 
except that, left to his own judgment, he will almost infallibly 
do the wrong thing. In general, offers of presents are to be 
suspected, especially those which are in any particular extraor- 
dinary. Of this class are those which are tendered on the oc- 
casion of the birth of a son, in reference to which the classical 
dictiun, " I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts," is universally 
and perennially appropriate. There is always something be- 
hind such an offer, and, as the homely Chinese proverb says 
of a rat dragging a shovel, the " larger end is the one that 
is behind," or, in other words, what is (virtually) required in 
return is much greater than what is given. 

Of the hollowness of these offers many foreigners in China 
have had experience. We have ourselves had occasion to be 
but too familiar with the details of a case in which a theatrical 
exhibition was offered to a few foreigners by a Chinese village, 
as a mark of respect, of course with the implied understanding 
that it should be duly acknowledged by suitable feasts. When 
this honour was definitely declined, it was proposed to devote 
the funds, or rather a small part of them, to the construction 
of a building for public use, which, in the case of the first 
village, was actually done. No sooner was this agreed upon 
than eleven other villages, also deeply smitten with gratitude 
for famine relief and medical help, proceeded to send deputa- 
tions to make on their part formal offers rf theatrical exhibi- 



THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 277 

tions, which they were perfectly aware would be and must be 
declined. The representatives of each village received the 
intelligence of the refusal of these honours with the same sad 
surprise, each of them offered to divert the funds in question 
to the public building already referred to, and each one of 
them allowed the matter to drop at that point, and no further 
reference whatever was ever made to it by any one of them! 

It is not foreigners only who are beset in this way. Rich 
Chinese who have had the misfortune to be made happy, are 
sometimes visited by their neighbours with congratulatory gifts 
of a trifling character, such as toys for a new-bom heir, pres- 
ents the total value of which is practically nothing, but which 
must be acknowledged by a feast — the invariable and always 
appropriate Chinese response. It is on occasions like this 
that the most inexpert in Chinese affairs learns to appreciate 
the accuracy of the Chinese aphorism, which observes, " When 
one is eating one's own, he eats till the tears come ; but when 
he is eating the food of others, he eats till the perspiration 
flows." It frequently happens under such conditions that the 
host is obhged to assume the most cordial appearance of wel- 
come, when he is inwardly fuming with rage which cannot 
possibly be expressed without the loss of his "face," which 
would be even more deadly than the loss of the food. 

This suggests that large class of expressions which come 
under the general designation of " face-talk." That much of 
the external decorum with which foreigners are treated by 
Chinese in their employ, especially in large cities, is a mere 
external veneer, is easily seen by contrasting the behaviour of 
the same persons in public and in private. It is said that a 
Chinese teacher who is a model of the proprieties at his for- 
eign master's house, is not unlikely to " cut him dead " if he 
meets the same master on the streets of Peking, for the reason 
that to notice him at that time would lead to a public recog- 
nition of the fact that the Chinese pundit is in some way in- 



278 CHINESE CHAR/ICTERISTICS 

debted to the foreign barbarian for replenishing the rice-bowl 
of the Chinese — a circumstance which, however notorious, 
must not be formally admitted, especially in public. It is very 
common for a number of Chinese, on entering .a room where 
there is a foreigner, to salute all the Chinese in the room by 
turn, and totally ignore the foreigner. A Chinese teacher is 
not unlikely to flatter his foreign pupil with the information 
that his ear is remarkably correct and his pronunciation almost 
perfect, and that he will soon surpass all his contemporaries in 
the acquisition of the language, while at the very same time 
the peculiar errors of the pupil are not improbably matter of 
sport between the teacher and his companions. In general, it 
may be taken for granted that the last person to set one right 
in matters of Chinese speech is the teacher who is employed 
for that purpose. 

One of the ways in which the formal and hollow politeness 
of the Chinese manifests itself, is in voluntary offers to do what 
it is very desirable should be done, but which others cannot or 
will not undertake. If the offer comes to nothing we should 
not be disappointed, for it is not improbable that it was made 
with the definite knowledge that it could not be carried out, 
but the " face " of the friend who made the offer is assured. 
In like manner, if there is a dispute as to the amount of money 
to be paid at an inn, your carter will probably come forward 
as arbitrator, and decide that he will make up the difference 
himself, which he does by taking the amount required from 
your cash-bag. Or if he were to pay the money from his own 
funds, he would bring in his bill for the same, and if he was 
reminded that he offered of his own accord to make it up, he 
would reply, " Do you expect the man who attends the funeral 
to be buried in the coffin too? " 

There is a great deal of real modesty in China notwith- 
standing appearances to the contrary, but it cannot for a mo- 
ment be doubted that there is likewise a great deal of mock 



THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 2'jg 

modesty, both on the part of men and of women. It is very 
common to hear it said of some disagreeable matter, that it is 
wholly unmentionable, that the words are totally imutterable, 
etc., when all parties are perfectly aware that this is a mere 
form denoting reluctance to express an opinion. The very 
persons who use this high-toned language would be ready 
enough to employ the foulest expressions of vituperation 
whenever they were excited by anger. 

False modesty is matched by a false sympathy, which con- 
sists of empty words ; but for this the Chinese are not to be 
blamed, as they have no adequate material out of which sym- 
pathy for others can be developed in any considerable quanti- 
ties and for any length of time. But empty sympathy is not 
so repugnant to good taste as that mockery of sympathy and 
of all true feeling which contemplates death with boisterous 
merriment. Mr. Baber mentions a Szechuan coolie who burst 
into a delighted laugh at the spectacle of two dogs devour- 
ing a corpse on the tow-path. Mr. Meadows tells us that his 
Chinese teacher laughed till he held his sides at the amusing 
death of his most constant companion. It is no explanation 
of these strange exhibitions, often observed in the case of 
parents at the death of children of whom they were fond, that 
long grief has dried up its external expression, for there is a 
wide distinction between a silent grief and that rude mockery 
of natural feeling which offends the instincts of mankind. 

It is, as we have had occasion to remark, several hundred 
years since foreigners began to have commercial relations 
with the Chinese. There have been multiplied testimonies to 
the business honesty of those with whom these relations have 
been held. Without generalising to a degree which might be 
precarious, it is safe to say that there must be a good basis for 
testimonies of this sort. As a specimen of what these testi- 
monies are, we may quote the words of Mr. Cameron, Man- 
ager of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, on occasion of his 



28o CHINESE CH/IR/ICTERISTICS 

farewell to Shanghai : " I have referred to the high commer- 
cial standing of the foreign community. The Chinese are in 
no way behind us ourselves in that respect ; in fact, I know of 
no people in the world I would sooner trust than the Chinese 
merchant and banker. Of course there are exceptions to every 
rule, but to show that I have good reasons for making such a 
strong statement, I may mention that for the last twenty-five 
years the bank has been doing a very large business with 
Chinese in Shanghai, amounting, I should say, to hundreds of 
millions of taels, and we have never yet met with a defaulting 
Chinaman." Perhaps the best commentary on the statement 
just quoted is the fact that within three years after it was 
made, a Chinese compradore of the same bank in Hongkong 
so crippled it by losses for which it did not appear that there 
was any security that a million dollars were subtracted from 
i the annual profits. 

Whether there is an essent'ai difference between Chinese 
business as conducted by wholesale and that by retail, we 
have no means of knowing. But without abating in the least 
from the value of the testimonies to which reference has been 
made, it is a fair question whether a large part of results noted 
are not due to the admirable system of mutual responsibility 
already described — a system which Western nations would do 
well to imitate. It is only natural that foreigners doing busi- 
ness with the Chinese should avail themselves to the fullest 
extent of such commercial safeguards as exist, and for such 
results as are thus attained the Chinese are unquestionably 
entitled to the fullest credit. Yet after all such acknowledg- 
ments are made, it remains true, as testified by a vast array of 
witnesses, and by wide and long observation, that the com- 
merce of the Chinese is a gigantic example of the national 
insincerity. 

An interesting essay has been written by one who knew of 
what he was affirming, on the process by which in ordinary 



THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 281 

trade two Chinese each succeed in cheating the other. The 
relation of two such individuals is generally the relation be- 
tween Jacob and Laban, or, as the Chinese phrase runs, it is 
the iron brush meeting the brass wash-dish. It is a popular 
proverb that to put a lad into trade is to ruin him. False 
weights, false measures, false currency, and false goods — these 
are phenomena from which it is difficult to escape in China. 
Even in the great establishments which put up conspicuous 
signs, notifying the pubUc that they will here find "goods 
genuine, prices real," " positively no two prices," the state of 
things does not correspond to the surface seeming. 

We by no means intend to affirm such a proposition as that 
there is no honesty to be found in China, but only that, so far 
as our experience and observation go, it is literally impossible 
to be sure of finding it anywhere. How can it be otherwise 
with a people who have so little regard for truth? A well- 
dressed scholar who meets a foreigner is not ashamed to affirm 
in reply to a question, that he cannot read, and then when a 
little book has been handed him to look at, he does not hesi- 
tate to sUnk away in the crowd without paying the three cash 
which is the cost. He has no sense of shame at such a pro- 
ceeding, but rather a thrill of joy that he has circumvented the 
silly foreigner, who has so little astuteness as to trust a total 
stranger. It is very common for a man who is buying from a 
foreigner to give a cash less than the proper amount, alleging 
that he has not another cash with him. When he is informed 
that there is one in his ear at the moment, he takes it out with 
reluctance, feeling that he has been defrauded. In like man- 
ner a man who has spent '' an old half-day " in trying to get 
something free of cost, on the ground that he is totally with- 
out money, will at last draw forth a string of a thousand cash, 
hand it to you with an air of melancholy, and request you to 
take out the proper amount. But if he is beUeved, and gets 



282 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

something for nothing, he departs with a keen joy in his heart, 
like that of one who has slain a serpent. 

The solidarity of Chinese society finds one of its manifesta- 
tions in the constant habit of borrowing what belongs to a 
relative, with or without a notification of the intention so to 
do. Many of the articles thus " borrowed " are at once put 
in pawn, and if they are wanted again the owners must redeem 
them. A Chinese boy in a mission school was detected in 
stealing money from the single lady who had charge of the 
scholars' rooms. Upon being confronted with irrefragable 
proof of his guilt, he explained, with, sobs, that when at home 
he had always been in the habit of stealing from his mother, 
and that his foreign teacher was so much like an own mother 
to him that he was betrayed into stealing from her too! 

While it is undoubtedly true that many of the evils which 
are so conspicuous in Chinese social hfe are to be found also 
in Western lands, it is of the utmost importance clearly to per- 
ceive the points of essential contrast. One of these we take 
to be that already mentioned, in that insincerity in China, 
while not always to be met with, is always to be looked for. 
Instances of this have been already cited in speaking of other 
topics, and others might be referred to at almost any length. 

An interesting volume remains to be written by some one 
who has the requisite knowledge, on the theory and practice 
of Chinese squeezes — a practice which extends from the Em- 
peror on his throne to the lowest beggar in the Empire. With 
that practical sagacity for which they are so deservedly noted, 
the Chinese have reduced this business to a perfect system, 
which can no more be escaped than one can escape the press- 
ure of the atmosphere. Vicious and demoralising as the sys- 
tem is, it is not easy to see how it can be done away with, 
except by a complete reorganisation of the Empire. 

The result of this state of things, and of the characteristics 




THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 

of the Chinese which have led to it, is that it is very difficult 
for a foreigner to have to do with the Chinese in a practical 
way, and on any extended scale, and yet contrive to preserve 
his reputation — should he be so fortunate as to have one — as 
a "superior man." It is a proverb constantly quoted, and 
self-verifying, that carters, boatmen, inn-keepers, coolies, and 
middlemen, irrespective of any specific offence, all deserve to 
be killed on general principles. The relation of this class of 
persons and others like them to foreigners is peculiar, for it is 
known that foreigners will consent to a great deal of imposi- 
tion i-ather than have a social typhoon, for which they gener- 
ally lack both the taste and the talent ; yet it is by the social 
typhoon that, in case of any supposed breach of equity on 
the part of Chinese towards Chinese, the social atmosphere is 
brought at last to a state of equilibrium. 

He must be a rare man who has no blind side upon which 
those Chinese who choose to do so cannot get. Not to be 
too suspicious and not to be too confiding is a rare illustra- 
tion of the golden mean. If one exhibits that just disappro- 
bation towards insincerity which it seems to demand, the 
Chinese, who are shrewd judges of human nature, set it down 
to our discredit as a mark of " temper " ; while if we maintain 
the placid demeanour of a Buddha absorbed in his Nirvana, 
a demeanour which is not easy for all temperaments at all 
times, we are at once marked as fit subjects for further and 
indefinite exactions. That was a typical Chinese who, being 
in foreign employ, saw one day a peddler on the street, vend- 
ing little clay images of foreigners, cleverly executed and in 
appropriate costume. Stopping for a moment to examine 
them, he said to the dealer in images, "Ah, you play with 
these toys ; I play with the real things." 

It is unnecessary to do more than to allude in passing to 
the fact that the Chinese government, so far as it is knowable, 
appears to be a gigantic example of the trait which we arc 



284 CHINESE CHylRACTERlSTICS 

discussing. Instances are to be found in the entire history of 
foreign relations with China, and one might almost say in all 
that is known of the relations of Chinese officials to the people. 
A single but compendious illustration is to be found in those 
virtuous proclamations which are issued with such imfailing 
regularity, in such superlative abundance, with such felicity 
of diction, on all varieties of subjects and from all grades of 
officials. One thing only is lacking, namely, reality, for these 
fine commands are not intended to be enforced. This is quite 
understood by all concerned, and on this point there are no 
illusions. " The life and state papers of a Chinese statesman, 
like the Confessions of Rousseau, abound in the finest senti- 
ments and the foulest deeds. He cuts off ten thousand 
heads, and cites a passage from Mencius about the sanctity 
of human life. He pockets the money given him to repair an 
embankment and thus inundates a province, and he deplores 
the land lost to the cultivator of the soil. ^^He makes a treaty 
which he secretly declares to be only a deception for the mo- 
ment, and he declaims against the crime of perjury." Doubt- 
less there may be pure-minded and upright officials in China, 
but it is very hard to find them, and from the nature of their 
environment they are utterly helpless to accomplish the good 
which they may have at heart. When we compare the actual 
condition of those who have had the best opportunity to be- 
come acquainted with the Chinese Classics, with the teachings 
of these Classics, we gain a vivid conception of how practically 
inert they have been to bring society to their high standard. 

" How many Chinese have you ever known whom you 
would implicitly trust?" This question must be understood 
to relate only to those who have come under no influences 
outside of regular Chinese education. Different repUes will 
be given by different persons according to their experience, 
and according to their standard of judging of Chinese charac- 
ter. Most foreigners would probably reply, "A very few," 




THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 

" Six or eight," "A dozen," as the case may be. Occasionally 
the answer will be, " A great many, more than I can remem- 
ber." But we must beUeve that inteUigent and discriminating 
observers who can truthfully give the latter reply are exceed- 
ingly few in number. 

It is always prudent to observe what things a people take 
for granted, and to act accordingly. As we have seen in the 
discussion of mutual suspicion as a factor in Chinese social 
life, the Chinese take it for granted that they are not to trust 
others, for reasons which they well understand. It is pre- 
cisely this state of things which makes the future of China so 
full of uncertainty. The governing class as a whole is not 
the best but the worst in the Empire. An intelligent Taotai 
remarked to a foreigner that " the oihcials under the Emperor 
are all bad men and ought to be killed, but it would be of no 
use to kill us, as the next incumbents would be just as bad as 
we." The serpent, as the Chinese adage runs, knows his own 
hole, and it is a significant fact that the official class in China 
is profoundly distrusted by the class next below it, the mer- 
cantile. They know that the so-called " reformation " is but 
a superficial shell, which will soon scale off. A Chinese mason 

spPTiHinpr a vast ampnyit nf ti'mp smnnthi "g the OUtside of 

chimn eys jiid^ roof s which he^as_built_badly; with untemp ered 
mg rtar, and which he knows will smoke and l eak at ths first 
opportu nity. is~a"type of many things in China. 

There is wealth enough in China to develop the resources 
of the Empire, if there were but the confidence , without whic h 

learning enmigh in C T^ina fnr all i>g nppflg There is no lacFa 
talent ofj evetyjjesririptio" But without mutual confidence, 
based uponreal.ja3ceHtj£»QLpurp©s% aJfc-these-are-insuffi(S 

f or the regeneratio n. Bf*^*^^-^^-*"?^'''^ 

A few years ago the writer was consulted by an intelligent' 
Chinese in regard to the possibiKty of doing something for 



286 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

the relief of a district that has great trouble with its wells, 
which are made in the usual Chinese way, and bricked up by 
a wall begun from the top and lowered as the well is deep- 
ened. But in this particular locality the soil is of such a char- 
acter that after a time the whole ground sinks, taking the well 
and its brick lining with it, leaving only a hole, which event, 
ually caves in and becomes dry. Like the attempt to remedy 
the evils of this unfortunate district in the province of Chihli 
is any prescription to cure thejlls from which China is suffer- 
ing, and has long suffered, which does not go deep enough to 
reach the roots of character. All superficial treatment will prove 
at last to be but burying cart-loads of excellent material in a 
Slough of Despond. 




The Temple of Heaven, Peking. 



CHAPTER XXVI. 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM. 



CONFUCIANISM, as a system of thought, is among the 
most remarkable intellectual achievements of the race. 
It is true that the Western reader cannot escape a feeling that 
much of what he finds in the Confucian Classics is jejune. 
But it is not merely by perusing them that we are to receive 
our most forcible impressions of what the Chinese Classics 
are and have been, but by contemplating their effects. Here is 
the Chinese race, by far the mightiest aggregation of human 
beings in any one nation on earth, " with a written history ex- 
tendinjg as far back as that of any other which the world has 
known, the only nation that has throughout retained its nation- 
ality, and has never been ousted from the land where it first 
appeared," existing, for aught that appears, in much the same 
way as in hoary antiquity. What is the explanation of this 
unexampled fact ? By what means has this incomputable 
mass of human beings, dwelling on the Chinese plains from 
the dawn of history until now, been controlled, andHiow is it 
that they appear to be an exception to the universal law of the 
decay and death of nations ? 

Those who have investigated this subject most thoroughly 
are united in declaring that this result is due to the fact that, 
whereas other nations have depended upon physical force, the 
Chinese have depended upon moral forces. No student of 
history, no observant traveller who knows human nature, can 
fail to be impressed, to the point of deep awe, with the thought 

387 




288 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

of the marvellous restraining power which Chinese morality 
has exerted upon the race from the earliest times until now. 
" It would be hard to overestimate," says Dr. Williams, " the 
influence of Confucius in his ideal princely scholar, and the 
power for good over his race which this conception has ever 
since exerted. The immeasurable influence in after-ages of 
the character thus portrayed proves how lofty was his own 
standard, and the national conscience has ever since assented 
to the justice of the portrait." " The teaching of Confucian- 
ism on human duty," says Dr. Legge, "is wonderful and ad- 
mirable. It is not perfect, indeed. But on the last three of 
the four things which Confucius delighted to teach — letters, 
ethics, devotion of soul, and truthfulness — ^his utterances are 
in harmony both with the Law and the Gospel. A world 
ordered by them would be a beautiful world." 

The entire freedom of the Chinese classical works from any- 
thing which could debase the mind of the readers is a most 
important characteristic which has been often pointed out, and 
which is in the greatest possible contrast to the hteratures of 
1 India, Greece, and Rome. " No people," says Mr. Meadows, 
'; " whether of ancient or modem times, has possessed a sacred 
ihterature so completely exempt as the Chinese from hcentious 
i descriptions, and from every offensive expression. There is 
not a single sentence in the whole of the Sacred Books and 
their annotations that may not be read aloud in any family 
circle in England. Again, in every other non-Christian coun- 
try, idolatry has been associated with human sacrifices and with 
the deification of vice, accompanied by hcentious rites and 
orgies. Not a sign of all this exists in China." 

The direct personal responsibility of the Emperor to heaven 
for the quality of his rule ; the exaltation of the people as of 
more importance than the rulers ; the doctrine that the vir- 
tuous and able should be the rulers, and that their rule must 
be based upon virtue ; the comprehensive theory of the five 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 

relations of men to each other; the doctrine that no one 
should do to another what he would not have that other do to 
him — these points have stood out hke mountain-peaks from 
the general level of Chinese thought, and have attracted the 
attention of all observers. In closing what we have to say 
of the Chinese, we wish to place emphasis upon the moral 
excellences of the Confucian system, for if is only by putting 
those excellences in their true light that we can hope to arrive 
at any just comprehension of the Chinese people. Those 
excellences have made the Chinese pre-eminently amenable to 
moral forces. The employment of the classical writings in 
the civil service examinations for successive ages has unified 
the minds of the people to a marvellous degree, and the 
powerful motives thus brought into play, leading every candi- 
date for a degree to hope for the stability of the government 
as a prerequisite to his own success, has doubtless been a 
principal factor in the perpetuation of the Chinese people to 
this present time. 

Whether the Chinese ever did have a knowledge of one 
true God is indeed a point of considerable interest. Those 
who have examined most critically the classical writings of 
the Chinese assure us that the weight of scholarship is upon 
the side of the affirmative. By others who have a claim to 
an independent judgment, this proposition is altogether denied. 
If the Chinese ever did recognise the true God, that knowl- 
edge has certainly been most effectually lost, hke an inscrip- 
tion on an ancient coin now covered with the accumulated 
rust of millenniums. To us the question seems to be of very 
much less practical concern than some would make it, and for 
our present purposes it may be altogether ignored. What I 
concerns us in our present inquiry is neither a historical nor a 
theoretical matter, but a practical one, to wit. What is the J 
relation which exists between the Chinese and their divinities?! 

It is in some cases not difficult to trace the stages by which 




CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

the heroes and worthies of antiquity from being honoured 
came to be commemorated, and from being merely commem- 
orated came to be worshipped. All the gods of China may 
be said to have been dead men, and by the rite of ancestral 
worship it may be affirmed that in a sense all the dead men 
of China are gods. Temples are constantly erected by the 
consent of the Emperor, to men who while living had in vari- 
ous ways distinguished themselves. It is impossible to say 
that any one of these men may not in the slow evolution of 
ages rise to the highest place among the national divinities. 
There can be no doubt whatever that as a nation the Chinese 
' are polytheistic. 

That there is a tendency in man towards the worship of 
nature is a mere truism. The recognition of irresistible and 
unknown forces leads to their personification and to external 
acts of adoration, based upon the supposition that these forces 
are sentient. Thus temples to the gods of wind, thunder, etc., 
abound. The north star is an object of constant worship. 
There are temples to the sun and to the moon in Peking, in 
connection with the Imperial worship, but in some regions 
the worship of the sun is a regular act of routine on the part 
of the people in general, on a day in the second month which 
they designate as his " birthday." Early in the morning the 
villagers go out to the east to meet the sun, and in the even- 
ing they go out towards the west to escort him on his way. 
This ends the worship of the sun for a year. 

An exceedingly common manifestation of this nature-wor- 
ship is in the reverence for trees, which in some provinces (as, 
for example, in northwestern Honan) is so exceedingly com- 
mon that one may pass hundreds of trees of all sizes, each of 
them hung with bannerets indicating that it is the abode of 
some spirit. Even when there is no external symbol of wor- 
ship, the superstition exists in full force. If a fine old tree is 
«een standing in front of a wretched hovel, it is morally certain 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 291 

that the owner of the tree dare not cut it down on account of 
the divinity within. 

It is often supposed that the Emperor is the only individual 
in the Empire who has the prerogative of worshipping heaven. 
The very singular and interesting ceremonies which are per- 
formed in the Temple of Heaven by the Emperor in person 
are no doubt unique. But it would be news to the people of 
China as a whole that they do not and must not worship 
heaven and earth each for themselves. The houses often 
have a small shrine in the front wall facing the south, and in 
some regions this is called the shrine to heaven and earth. 
Multitudes of Chinese will testify that the only act of religious 
worship which they ever perform (aside from ancestral rites) 
is a prostration and an offering to heaven and earth on the 
first and fifteenth of each moon, or, in some cases, on the be- 
ginning of each new year. No prayer is uttered, and after a 
time the offering is removed, and, as in other cases, eaten. 
What is it that at such times the people worship ? Sometimes 
they affirm that the object of worship is " heaven and earth." 
Sometimes they say that it is "heaven," and again they call 
it " the old man of the sky." The latter term often leads to 
an impression that the Chinese do have a real perception of a 
personal deity. But when it is ascertained that this supposed 
"person" is frequently matched by another called "grand- 
mother earth," the value of the inference is open to serious 
question. In some places it is customary to offer worship to 
this "old man of the sky" on the nineteenth of the sixth 
moon, as that is his " birthday." But among a people who 
assign a " birthday " to the sun, it is superfluous to inquire 
who was the father of " the old man of the sky," or when he 
was bom, for on matters of this sort there is absolutely no 
opinion at all. It is difficult to make an ordinary Chinese 
understand that such questions have any practical bearing. 



29* CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

He takes the tradition as he finds it, and never dreams of 
I raising any inquiries upon this point or any other. We have 
seldom met any Chinese who had an intelligible theory with 
regard to the antecedents or qualities of " the old man of the 
sky," except that he is supposed to regulate the weather, and 
hence the crops. The wide currency among the Chinese 
people of this term, hinting at a personality, to whom, how- 
ever, so far as we know, no temples are erected, of whom no 
image is made, and to whom no worship distinct from that to 
" heaven and earth " is offered, seems to remain thus far un- 
explained. 

The word " heaven " is often used in the Chinese Classics 
in such a way as to convey the idea of personahty and will. 
But it is likewise employed in a manner which suggests very 
little of either, and when we read in the commentary that 
"heaven is a principle," we feel that the vagueness of the 
term is at its maximum. To this ambiguity in classical use 
corresponds the looseness of meaning given to it in everyday 
life. The man who has been worshipping heaven, upon being 
pressed to know what he means by " heaven," will frequently 
reply that it is the blue expanse above. His worship is there- 
fore in harmony with that of him who worships the powers of 
nature, either individually or collectively. His creed may be 
described in Emersonian phrase as "one with the blowing 
clover and the falling rain." In other words, he is a panthe- 
ist. This lack of any definite sense of personality is a fatal 
flaw in the Chinese worship of " heaven." 

The polytheism and pantheism of the lower classes of Chi- 
nese are matched in the upper classes by what appears to be 
pure atheism. From the testimony of those who know most 
on this point, from the abundant surface indications, and from 
antecedent probability, we have no difficulty in concluding 
that there never was on this earth a body of educated and 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 293 

cultivated men so thoroughly agnostic and atheistic as the 
mass of Confucian scholars.* The phrase " antecedent prob- 
ability " refers to the known influence which has been exerted 
over the literati of China by the materialistic commentators 
of the Sung Dynasty. The authority of Chu Hsi, the learned 
expounder of the Chinese Classics, has been so overwhelming 
that to question any of his views has long been regarded as 
heresy. The effect has been to overlay the teachings of the 
Classics with an interpretation which is not only materialistic, 
but which, so far as we understand it, is totally atheistic. 

After the Yellow River emerges from the mountains of 
Shansi and Shensi, it continues its way for hundreds of miles 
to the sea. In successive ages it has taken many different 
routes, ranging through six or seven degrees of latitude, from 
the mouth of the Yang-tse-Kiang to that of the Peiho. But 
wherever it has flowed it has carried ruin, and has left be- 
hind it a barren waste of sand. Not unlike this has been the 
materialistic current introduced by the commentators of the 
Sung Dynasty into the stream of Chinese thought, a current 
which, having flowed unchecked for seven centuries, has left 
behind it a moral waste of atheistic sand, incapable of sup- 
porting the spiritual life of a nation. Taoism has degener- 
ated into a system of incantations against evil spirits. It has 
largely borrowed from Buddhism to supplement its own in- 
nate deficiencies. Buddhism was itself introduced to provide 
for those inherent wants in the nature of man which Confu- 
cianism did little or nothing to satisfy. Each of these forms 
of instruction has been greatly modified by the others. Any 
kind of organisation which offers a method of practising virtue 
will be patronised by those who happen to be disposed to lay 
up a little merit, and to whom this avenue appears as good as 

• Mr. Meadows remarks that every consistent Confucianist ought to 
be a blank atheist, but as human nature is seldom ideally self-consistent, 
many Gonfucianists either believe in the gods, or think that they do so. 



294 CHINESE CHARylCTERISTICS 

any other. Any kind of a divinity which seems adapted to 
exert a favourable influence in any given direction will be 
patronised, just as a man who happens to need a new um- 
brella goes to some shop where they keep such goods for 
sale. To inquire into the antecedents of the divinity who is 
thus worshipped, no more occurs to a Chinese than it would 
occur to an Englishman who wanted the umbrella to satisfy 
himself as to the origin of umbrellas, and when they first came 
into general use. 

It is not uncommon to meet with learned disquisitions upon 
the question as to the number of Buddhists and Taoists in 
China. In our view this question is exactly paralleled by an 
inquiry into the number of persons in the United Kingdom 
who use ten-penny nails as compared with the number of 
those who eat string-beans. Any one who wants to use a 
ten-penny nail will do so if he can obtain it, and those who 
hke string-beans and can afford to buy them will presump- 
tively consume them. The case is not different in China as 
regards the two most prominent " doctrines." Any Chinese 
who wants the services of a Buddhist priest, and who can 
afford to pay for them, will hire the priest, and thus be "a 
Buddhist." If he wants a Taoist priest, he will in like man- 
ner call him, and this makes him "a Taoist." It is of no 
consequence to the Chinese which of the two he employs, and 
he will not improbably call them both at once, and thus be 
at once " a Buddhist " and " a Taoist." Thus the same indi- 
vidual is at once a Confucianist, a Buddhist, and a Taoist, and 
with no sense of incongruity. Buddhism swallowed Taoism, 
Taoism swallowed Confucianism, but at last the latter swal- 
lowed both Buddhism and Taoism together, and thus " the 
three religions are one ! " 

The practical relation of the Chinese to their " three relig- 
ions" may be illustrated by the relations of an Anglo-Saxon to 
the materials of which his language is composed : "Saxon and 




POLYTHEISM, PylNTHBlSM, ATHEISM 

Norman and Dane are we ; " but even were it possible to de- 
termine our remote origin, the choice of our words would not 
be influenced in the smallest degree by the extent to which we 
may happen to have Saxon or Norman blood in our veins. 
Our selection of words will be determined by our mental hab- 
its, and by the use to which we wish to put the words. The 
scholar will use many Latin words, with liberal admixture of 
the Norman, while the farmer will use mostly plain Saxon terms. 
But in either case the Saxon is the base, to which the other 
stocks are but additions. In China Confucianism is the base, 
and all Chinese are Confucianists, as all English are Saxons. 
To what extent Buddhist or Taoist ideas, phraseology, and 
practices may be superimposed upon this base, will be deter- 
mined by circumstances. But to the Chinese there is no more 
incongruity or contradiction in the combination of the " three 
religions " in one ceremony, than there is to our thought in the 
interweaving of words of diverse national origin in the same 
sentence. 

It is always diiScult to make a Chinese perceive that two 
forms of belief are mutually exclusive. He knows nothing 
about logical contradictories, and cares even less. He has 
learned by instinct the art of reconciling propositions which 
are inherently irreconcilable, by violently affirming each of 
them, paying no heed whatever to their mutual relations. He 
is thus prepared by all his intellectual training to allow the 
most incongruous forms of belief to unite, as fluids mingle 
by endosmosis and exosmosis. He has carried " intellectual 
hospitality " to the point of logical suicide, but he does not 
know it, and cannot be made to understand it when he is told. 

Two results of this mechanical union of creeds are very 
noteworthy. The first is the violence done to the innate in- 
stinct of order, an instinct for which the Chinese are espe- 
cially distinguished, which is conspicuously displayed in the 
elaborate machinery of the carefully graded ranks of officials, 



296 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

from the first to the ninth, each marked by its own badges, 
and having its own special limitations. Something analogous 
to this might certainly have been looked for in the Chinese 
pantheon, but nothing of the sort is found. It is vain to in- 
quire of a Chinese which divinity is supposed to be the greater, 
the " Pearly Emperor '' or Buddha. Even in the " Temple-to- 
all-the-gods " the order is merely arbitrary and accidental, and 
subject to constant variations. There is no regular gradua- 
tion of authority in the spirit world of the Chinese, but such 
utter confusion as, if found on earth, would be equivalent to 
chronic anarchy. This state of things is seen in a still more 
conspicuous manner in the " Halls of the Three Religions," 
where the images of Confucius, of Buddha, and of Laotze 
are displayed in a close harmony. The post of honour is in 
the centre, and this we should expect to be conceded to 
Confucius, or if not to him — since he made no claim of any 
kind to divinity — then to Laotze. There is good reason to 
think that this question of precedence has been in by-gone 
days the occasion of acrimonious disputes, but in nearly all 
the instances of which we happen to have heard, it has been 
settled in favour of Buddha, albeit a foreigner! 

1 Another significant result of the union of all beliefs in China, 
is the debasement of man's moral nature to the lowest level 
found in any of the creeds. This is in accordance with a law 
akin to that by which a baser currency invariably displaces 
that which is better. All the lofty maxims of Confucianism 
have been wholly ineffective in guarding the Confucianists 
from fear of the goblins and devils which figure so largely in 
Taoism. It has often been remarked, and with every appear- 
ance of truth, that there is no other civilised nation in exist- 
ence which is under such bondage to superstition and credu- 
lity as the Chinese. Wealthy merchants and learned scholars 
are not ashamed to be seen, on the two days of the month 
set apart for that purpose, worshipping the fox, the weasel, 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 297 

the hedgehog, the snake, and the rat, all of which in printed 
placards are styled " Their Excellencies," and are thought to 
have an important effect on human destiny. 

It is not many years since the most prominent statesman in 
China fell on his knees before a water-snake which some one 
had been pleased to represent as an embodiment of the god 
of floods, supposed to be the incarnation of an official of a 
former dynasty, whose success in dealing with brimming rivers 
was held to be miraculous. This habit of worshipping a 
snake, alleged to be a god, whenever floods devastate China 
appears to be a general one. In districts at a distance from 
a river, any ordinary land-serpent will pass as a god and " no 
questions asked." If the waters subside, extensive theatrical 
performances may be held in honour of the god who has 
granted this boon, to wit, the snake, which is placed on a tray 
in a temple or other public place for the purpose. The Dis- 
trict Magistrate, and all other officers, go there every day to 
prostrate themselves and to bum incense to the divinity. A 
river-god is generally regarded as the rain-god in regions ad- 
jacent to waterways, but at a little distance in the interior, the 
god of war, Kuan Ti, is much more likely to be worshipped 
for the same purpose ; but sometimes both are supplanted by 
the goddess of mercy. To a Chinese this does not seem at 
all irrational, for his mind is free from all presumptions as to 
the unity of nature, and it is very hard for him to appreciate 
the absurdity, even when it is demonstrated to him. 

In connection with these prayers for rain, another curiour 
and most significant fact has often been brought to our notice. 
In the famous Chinese novel called " Travels to the West," 
one of the principal characters was originally a monkey hatched 
from a stone, and by slow degrees of evolution developed into 
a man. In some places this imaginary being is worshipped as 
a rain-god, to the exclusion of both the river-god and the god 
of war. No instance could put in a clearer fight than this the 



298 CHINESE CH/IRACTERISTICS 

total lack in China of any dividing line between the real and 
the fictitious. To a Western mind causes and effects are cor- 
relative. What may be the intuitions of cause and effect in 
the mind of a Chinese who prays to a non-existent monkey to 
induce a fall of rain, we are not able to conjecture. 

The gods of the Chinese being of this heterogeneous descrip- 
tion, it is of importance to inquire what the Chinese do with 
them. To this question there are two answers : they worship 
them, and they neglect them. It is not very uncommon to 
meet with estimates of the amount which the whole Chinese 
nation expends for incense, paper money, etc., in the course 
of a year. Such estimates are of course based upon a calcu- 
lation of the apparent facts in some special district, which is 
taken as a unit, and then used as a multiplier for all the other 
districts of the Empire. Nothing can be more precarious than 
so-called " statistics " of this sort, which have literally no more 
validity than that census of a cloud of mosquitoes which was 
taken by a man who " counted until he was tired, and then 
estimated." 

There is very little which one can be safe in predicating of 
the Chinese Empire as a whole. Of this truth the worship in 
Chinese temples is a conspicuous example. The traveller 
who lands in Canton, and who perceives the clouds of smoke 
arising from the incessant offerings to the divinities most pop- 
ular there, will conclude that the Chinese are among the most 
idolatrous people in the world. But let him restrain his judg- 
ment until he has visited the other end of the Empire, and he 
will find multitudes of the temples neglected, absolutely un- 
visited except on the first and fifteenth of the moon, in many 
cases not then, and perhaps not even at the New- Year, when, 
if ever, the Chinese instinct of worship prevails. He will find 
hundreds of thousands of temples the remote origin of which 
is totally lost in antiquity, and which are occasionally repaired, 
but of which the people can give no account and for which 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM ( 299 




they have no regard. He will find hundreds of square miles 
of populous territory in which there is to be seen scarcely a 
single priest, either Taoist or Buddhist. In these regions he 
will generally find no women in the temples, and the children 
allowed to grow up without the smallest instruction as to the 
necessity of propitiating the gods. In other parts of China 
the condition of things is totally different, and the external 
rites of idolatry are interwoven into the smallest details of the 
Ufe of each separate day. 

The religious forces of Chinese society may be compared to 
the volcanic forces which have built up the Hawaiian Islands. 
In the most northern and western members of the group the 
volcanoes have for ages been extinct, and their sites marked 
only by broken-down crater-pits now covered with luxmiant 
vegetation. But on the southeastern member of the group the 
fires are still in active operation, and continue at intervals to 
shake the island from centre to circumference. In some of 
the oldest parts of China there is the least attention paid to 
temple worship, and in some of the provinces which at the 
time of China's greatest glory were wild and barbarous re- 
gions, idolatry is most flourishing. But it is easy to be misled 
by siuface indications such as these. It is quite possible that 
they may pass for more than they are worth, and before well- 
grounded inferences can be safely drawn the subject requires 
much fuller investigation than it has as yet received. 

To "reverence the gods, but to keep at a distance from 
them," was the advice of Confucius. It is not strange, there- 
fore, that his followers at the present day consider respectful 
neglect to be the most prudent treatment for the multitudinous 
and incongruous divinities in the Chinese pantheon. When 
contrasted with the Mongols or the Japanese, the Chinese 
people are felt to be comparatively free from the bias of re- 
ligion. It is common to see over the doors of temples the 
classical expression, " Worship the gods as if they were pres- 



30O CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

ent." The popular instinct has taken at its true value the 
uncertainty conveyed in the words " as if," and has embodied 
them in current sayings which accurately express the state of 
mind of the mass of the people : 

" Worship the gods as if they came, 
But if you don't, it's all the same." 

" Worship the gods as if the gods were there. 
But if you worship not, the gods don't care." 

One step beyond respectful neglect of the gods is ceremonial 
reverence, which consists in performing a certain routine in a 
certain way, with no other thought than that of securing cer- 
tain external results by so doing. 

The idea of solemnity appears to be foreign to the Chinese 
mind. We do not know how to speak of it without express- 
ing an idea of what is merely decorum. All Chinese worship 
of Chinese divinities, of which we have ever been cognisant, 
has appeared to be either routine ceremonial, or else a mere 
matter of barter — so much worship for so much benefit. 
When " the old man of the sky " is spoken of as a being, and 
to be reverenced, the uniform presentation of this aspect, to 
the exclusion of all others, shows in a most decisive manner 
what the worship really is. " Because we have our food and 
clothes from him," is the reply when a Chinese is asked 
why he makes periodical prostrations to this " person." Even 
when the individual has no definite opinions as to the real 
existence of such a being, this does not prevent his conformity 
to the rite. The ancients did so, and he does as they did. 
Whether it is of any use " who knows ? " 

This habit of looking at religious ceremonial from a super- 
ficial standpoint is well illustrated in a couplet which is some- 
times posted, in a semi-satirical sense, upon the pillars of a 
neglected shrine : 




A Chinese Idol. 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 301 

" When the temple has no priest, the wind sweeps the floor; 
If the building is without a light, the moon acts as lamp." 

The gods are worshipped, just as in Western lands an in- 
surance pohcy is taken out, because it is the safer way. " It 
is better to beheve that the gods exist," says the popular say- 
ing, "than to believe that they do not exist;" that is, if they 
do not exist at all, there is no harm done ; whereas if they do 
exist, and are neglected, they may be angry and revengeful. 
The gods are supposed to be actuated by the motives which 
are known to actuate men. It is a proverb that one who has 
a sheep's head (for a temple offering) can get whatever he 
desires, and also that those divinities, such as the "Three 
Pure Ones," who have nothing special to bestow, will always 
be poor, while the goddess of mercy and the god of war will 
be the ones honoured and enriched. 

Not only do the Chinese base the argument for the worship 
of the gods upon the strictly hypothetical foundation, " it can 
do no harm, and it may do some good," but they go a step 
farther, into a region where it is totally impossible for an Oc- 
cidental mind to follow them. They often say and appear to 
think, " If you believe in them, then there really are gods ; 
but if you do not believe in them, then there are none ! " This 
mode of speech (a mode of thought it can scarcely be called) 
resembles that of a Chinese who should say : " If you believe 
in the Emperor, then there is one ; but if you do not believe 
in one, then there is no Emperor." When this analogy is 
pointed out, the Chinese are ready enough to admit it, but they 
do not appear to perceive it for themselves by any necessary 
process. 

There are many Chinese worshippers who are to be seen 
making a prostration at every step, sometimes occupying very 
long periods of time in going on tedious and difficult pilgrim- 
ages. When asked what is their motive for submitting to 
these austerities, they will tell us that as there is so much false 



V 



302 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

worship of the gods, it is necessary for worshippers to demon- 
strate by these laborious means that their hearts are sincere. 
Whatever may be said in regard to such exceptional instances, 
we have no hesitation in affirming that all that has been al- 
ready said of the absence of sincerity among the Chinese, in 
their relations to one another, applies with even greater force to 
much of their worship. The photograph of a group of priests 
belonging to a temple near Peking is a perfect masterpiece in 
the representation of serpentine cunning. Men who have such 
faces live lives to correspond with their faces. 

It is as true of the Chinese as it has been of other nations 
in heathenism, that they have conceived of their gods as alto- 
gether such as they are themselves, and not without reason, 
for many of the gods are the countr}rmen of those who wor- 
ship them. The writer once saw a proclamation posted in the 
name of the goddess of mercy, informing the world that repre- 
sentations had been made at the court of heaven to the effect 
that mankind were waxing very vicious. The " Pearly Em- 
peror " of the divinities, upon hearing this, was very angry, and 
in a loud tone reviled all the subordinate gods because they 
had failed to reform mankind by exhortation ! Human beings 
are supposed to be surrounded by a cloud of spirits, powerful 
for evil, but subject to bribes, flattery, cajolery, and liable to 
be cheated. A Chinese is anxious to take advantage of the 
man with whom he makes a bargain, and he is not less anx- 
ious to take advantage — if he can — of the god with whom he 
makes a bargain — in other words, the god to whom he prays. 
Perhaps he purchases felicity by subscribing towards the re- 
pair of a temple, but he not improbably has his subscription 
of two hundred and fifty cash registered as a thousand. The 
god will take the account as it stands. While the temple is in 
process of repair a piece of red paper is perhaps pasted over 
the eyes of each god, that he may not see the confusion by 
which he is surrounded and which is not considered respectful. 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 303 

If the temple is situated at the outskirts of a village, and is in 
too frequent use by thieves as a place in which to divide their 
booty, the door may be almost or even altogether bricked up, 
and the god left to communicate with the universe as best he 
can. 

The familiar case of the kitchen-god, who ascends to heaven 
at the end of the year to make his report of the behaviour 
of the family, but whose lips are first smeared with glutinous 
candy to prevent his reporting the bad deeds which he has 
seen, is a typical instance of a Chinese outwitting his celestial 
superiors. In the same way a boy is sometimes called by a 
girl's name to make the unintelligent evil spirits think that he 
is a girl, in order to secure his lease of life. Mr. Baber speaks 
of the murder of female infants in Szechuan, whose spirits are 
subsequently appeased by mock money, which is burned, that 
it may be conveyed to them for their expenses ! The temples 
to the goddess who bestows children, unlike most other tem- 
ples, are often frequented by women. Some of these temples 
are provided with many little clay images of male children, 
some in the arms of their patron goddess, and others disposed 
like goods on a shelf. It is the practice of Chinese women, 
on visiting these temples, to break off the parts which distin- 
guish the sex of the child and eat them, so as to insure the 
birth of a son. In case there are large numbers of little im- 
ages, as just mentioned, it is with a view to the accommoda- 
tion of the women who frequent the temple, each of whom 
will take an image, but it must be stolen and not openly carried 
off. In case the desired child is born, the woman is expected 
to show her gratitude by returning two other images in the 
place of that which she stole ! Chinese sailors suppose that 
the dreaded typhoons of the China seas are caused by malig- 
nant spirits, which lie in wait to catch the junks as they navi- 
gate the dangerous waters. When the storm reaches a pitch 
of extreme violence, it is said that it is the habit of the man- 



304 CHINESE CHjIRACTERISTI^S 

ners to have a paper junk made of the exact pattern of their 
own, and complete in all its details. This paper Junk is then 
cast into the sea at the point of maximtim disturbance, in 
order that the angry water-spirits may be deceived into think- 
ing that this is the vessel of which they are in quest, and thus 
allow the real one to escape! 

The custom prevails in many parts of China, upon occasion 
of the spread of some fatal epidemic like cholera, at the be- 
ginning of the sixth or seventh moon to hold a New- Year's 
celebration. This is with a view to deceiving the god of the 
pestilence, who will be surprised to find that he is wrong in 
his calculations as to the time of year, and will depart, allow- 
ing the plague to cease. This practice is so well understood 
that the phrase " autumnal second month " is understood to 
be a periphrasis for " never." Another method of hoodwink- 
ing a divinity is for a man to creep under a table upon which 
are placed offerings, and to put his head through a round 
hole made for that purpose. The god will think that this is a 
genuine case of offering a man's head in sacrifice, and will act 
accordingly. The man will withdraw his head, and enjoy his 
well-earned felicity. 

In one case of which we happened to be cognisant, where a 
village decided to remove the gods from a temple and use it 
for a schooUiouse, they had hoped to pay a considerable pro- 
portion of the expenses of the alterations by the " silver " to 
be extracted from the hearts of the late gods. But the simple- 
minded rustics^ were not familiar with the ways of Chinese 
gods and of those who make them, who are like unto them ; 
for when they came to search for the precious hearts they 
were not found right, but consisted simply of lumps of pew- 
ter! Cases no doubt occur in which the priests do conceal 
treasures in the images of their gods, and they are matched 
by corresponding cases in which the temples are robbed, and 
the gods either carried off bodily or pulverised on the spot 



POLYTHEISM. PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 305 

Violent treatment of Chinese divinities on the part of those 
who might be expected to worship them, is by no means un- 
known. We have heard of an instance in which a District 
Magistrate tried a case which involved a priest, and by im- 
pUcation the Buddha which was the occupant of the temple. 
This god was summoned to appear before the magistrate and 
told to kneel, which he failed to do, whereupon the magistrate 
ordered him to be beaten five hundred blows, by which time 
the god was reduced to a heap of dust, and judgment was 
pronounced against him by default. 

Nearly every year petitions are incessantly put up to the 
rain-god to exert his powers on the parched earth, which can- 
not be planted until there is a rainfall. After prayers have 
been long continued with no result, it is common for the 
villagers to administer a little wholesome correction by drag- 
ging the image of the god of war out of his temple and setting 
him down in the hottest place to be found, that he may know 
what the condition of the atmosphere really is at first hand, 
and not by hearsay only. The habit of exhibiting undisguised 
dissatisfaction with the behaviour of the gods is referred to 
in the current saying, " If you do not mend the roof of your 
house in the third or fourth moon, you will be reviling the god 
of floods in the fifth moon or the sixth." 

We have heard of an instance in which the people of a 
large city in China, having been visited by an epidemic of 
great severity, decided that this was owing to the malevolent 
influence of a particular divinity of the district. Banding 
themselves together precisely as if the god were a living bully, 
they set upon him and reduced him to his original elements. 
Of the accuracy of this narrative we have no proofs except 
its currency, but that appears to be sufficient in itself. The 
whole proceeding is not inconsistent with the Chinese notions 
about gods and spirits. 

In view of facts such as those to which we have been 



3o6 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

directing the reader's attention, it might be most natural for 
one who was not familiar with the Chinese character, to draw 
the inference that it cannot be possible that the Chinese 
have any religion at all. This statement has indeed been 
often made in explicit language. . In Mr. Meadows' work on 
" The Chinese and Their Rebellions," he quotes some of the 
too sweeping generaUsations of M. Hue only to denounce 
them, affirming them to be " baseless calumny of the higher 
life of a great portion of the human race." Mr. Meadows 
is ready enough to admit that the Chinese are not attracted 
either to the bare results of centuries of doctrinal disputes or 
to the conduct of the nations which accept those results as 
their creed, but emphatically denies the assertion that the 
Chinese have " no longing for immortality, no cordial admira- 
tion of what is good and great, no unswerving and unshrinking 
devotion to those who have been good and great, no craving, 
no yearning of the soul to reverence something high and holy." 
Sir Thomas Wade, on the other hand, whose long familiarity 
with China and the Chinese might be supposed to entide him 
to speak with authority on so plain a question as whether the 
Chinese have or have not a religion, has recently published 
Ihis opinion as follows : " If religion is held to mean more than 
{mere ethics, I deny that the Chinese have a reUgion, They 
Slave indeed a cult, or rather a mixture of cults, but no creed ; 
finnumerable varieties of puerile idolatry, at which they are 
ready enough to laugh, but which they dare not disregard." 

Into the interesting and by no means easily answered ques- 
tion here raised we do not feel required to enter. It would 
be easy to discuss it at great length, but we are not certain 
that any hght would be thrown upon it. In our view there is 
a practical method of approaching the matter, which will serve 
our purpose much better than abstract discussion. Taoism 
and Buddhism have greatly affected the Chinese, but the 
Chinese are not Taoists as such, neither are they Buddhists. 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM. ATHEISM 

They are Confucianists, and whatever may be added to their 
faith, or whatever may be taken away by the other systems of 
thought, the Chinese always remain Confucianists. We shall 
close by P.ndea.vmirinp; to ^nvt m whaf rpcp^f-tc rr.i^f.ipWc», 
comejLsh ort of being a relijapon such as the Chinese/ ^rfi^Q^ 
have. In order to do this, we shall quote the language of a 
distinguished Chinese scholar, whose conclusions cannot be 
lightly set aside. 

At the end of his " Systematical Digest of the Doctrines of 
Confucius," Dr. Ernst Faber devotes a section to The Defects 
and Errors of Confucianism, which are set forth, while at the 
same time it is acknowledged that there is in Confucianism 
much that is excellent concerning the relations of man, and 
many points in which the doctrines of Christian revelation are 
almost echoed. We quote the four-and-twenty points speci- 
fied, adding here and there a few words of comment. 

1. "Confucianism recognises no relation to a living god." 

2. " There is no distinctio n made between the human soul., 
and the body, nor is there any clear definition of man, either 
from a physical or from a physiological point of view." 

The absence of any clear doctrine as to the soul of man is 
very perplexing to the foreign student of Confucianism, The 
ultimate outcome of its teaching, in the case of many of the 
common people, is that t hey kno w.n.o.th;ijig,,about any soul at 
alL_excegMnJhe__sensg,,Q£.agi^^ When a man dies, 

there is classical authority for the statement that his " soul " 
goes upwards towards heaven, and his " animal soul " goes 
into the earth. But a simpler theory is that so constantly 
advanced, and which is entirely harmonious with the agnostic 
materialism of the tpi&£«B£asiaaist, that " thejoul_^_otii£atlj 
dissolves into^ths ^r, and the fl£sluato..Sl&.dU5t. It is fre- 
quently quite impossible to interest a Chinese in the question 
whether he has three souls, one soul, or no soul at all. To 
him the elucidation of such a matter is invested with the same 



I 



y^ 



<^S/ CHINESE CHy4RACTERlSTlCS 

kind and degree of interest which he would feel in learning 
which particular muscles of the body produce the movement 
of the organ concerned in eating. As long as the process is 
allowed to go on with comfort, he does not care in the smallest 
degree by what name the anatomist designates the muscular 
fibres which assist the result. In like manner, as long as the 
Chinese has enough to do to look after the interest of his 
digestive apparatus, and that of those who are dependent 
upon him, he is very Ukely to care nothing either about his 
" souls " (if he has any) or about theirs, unless it can be shown 
that the matter is in some way connected with the price of 
grain. 

3. " There is no explanation given why it is that some men 
are bom as saints, others as ordinary mortals." 
/^ 4. " All men are said to possess the disposition and strength 
fj j necessary for the attainment of moral perfection, but the con- 
Vfrast with the actual state remains unexplained." 

5. " There is wanting in Confucianism a decided and serious 
tone in its treatment of the doctrine of sin, for, with the 
exception of moral retribution in social life, it mentions no 
punishment for sin." 

6. " Confucianism is generally devoid of a deeper insight 
into sin and evil." 

7. " Confucianism finds it therefore impossible to explain 
death." 

8. " Confucianism knows no mediator, none that could 
restore original nature in accordance with the ideal which man 
finds in himself." 

9. " Prayer and its ethical power find no place in the sys- 
tem of Confucius." 

10. "Though confidence is indeed frequently insisted upon, 
its presupposition, truthfulness in speaking, is never practically 
urged, but rather the reverse." 

11. "Polygamy is presupposed and tolerated." 




POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM ( ^09 

1 2. " Polytheism is sanctioned." 

13. " Fortune-telling, choosing of days, omens, dreams, and 
other illusions (phoenixes, etc.) are believed in." 

14. " Ethics are confounded with external ceremonies, andT) iv 
a precise despotic political form." f^ ^ 

15. "The position which Confucius assumed towards an- 
cient institutions is a capricious one." 

16. "The assertion that certain musical melodies influence 
the morals of the people is ridiculous." 

17. "The influence of mere good example is exaggerated, 
and Confucius himself proves it most of all." 

If it be true, as Confucian ethics claim, that the prince is 
the vessel as the people are the water ; that when the cup is 
round the water will be round, and when the dish is flat the 
water will be flat— it seems hard to explain how the great men 
of China have not exerted a stronger influence in the way of 
modifying the character of those who study their lives. If 
example is really so powerful as Confucianists represent, how 
does it happen that as seen in its effects it is so comparatively 
inert ? The virtual deification of the " superior man," as 
mentioned below under No. 20, is matched by the entire ab- 
sence of any mediator, as already pointed out under No. 8. 
No matter how " superior " the sage may be, he is obliged to 
confine himself to giving good advice. If the advice is not 
taken, he not only cannot help it, but there is no further 
advice given. 

To us that has always appeared to be a singularly suggest- 
ive passage in which Confucius said : " I do not open up the 
truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help out 
any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have 
presented one corner of a subject to any one, and he cannot 
from it learn the other three, I do not repeat the lesson." The 
advice which he gives is for superior men only. Such advice is 
excellent, but it is by no means a prophylactic. When it has 




CHINESE CH/tRylCTERISTlCS 

failed to act as such, then what is wanted is a restorative. It 
is idle to stand over the traveller who, having fallen among 
thieves, is stripped and wounded, and to discourse to him of 
the importance of joining friendly caravans, of the unadvisa- 
biUty of sustaining serious lesions of the tissues, by which 
much blood is likely to be lost and the nervous centres injured. 
The wounded man, already faint from loss of blood, knows 
all that ; indeed, he knew it all the while. What he needs 
now is not retrospective lectiu:es on the consequences of vio- 
lating natural laws, but oil, wine, a place of refuge for a pos- 
sible recovery, and above all, a wise and helpful friend. For 
the physically disabled, Confucianism may at times do some- 
thing ; for the morally and spiritually wounded it does and 
can do nothing. 

18. "In Confucianism the system of social life is t5rranny. 
Women are slaves. Children have no rights in relation to 
their parents, whilst subjects are placed in the position of 
children with regard to their superiors." 

ig. " FiUal piety is exaggerated into deification of parents." 

20. " The net result of Confucius' system, as drawn by him- 
iself, is the worship of genius, i.e., deification of man." 

21." There is, with the exception of ancestral worship, which 
'I is void of any true ethical value, no clear conception of the 
dogma of immortality." 

22. "All rewards are expected in this world, so that egotism 
s unconsciously fostered, and if not avarice at least ambition." 

23. " The whole system of Confucianism offers no comfort 
to ordinary mortals, either in hfe or in death." 

24. " The history of China shows that Confucianism is in- 
capable of effecting for the people a new birth to a higher life 
and nobler efforts, and -Confucianism is now in practical hfe 
quite alloyed with Shamanistic and Buddhistic ideas and 
practices." 

Of the strange intermixture of different forms of faith in 



POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 31 r 

China we have akeady spoken. That neither Confucianism 
nor either of its co-religions is capable of " effecting for the 
people a new birth to a higher life and nobler efforts " is well 
recognised by the Chinese themselves. This is strikingly 
shown in one of their fables, the hterary authorship of which 
we have not ascertained. 

According to this account, Confucius, Laotze, and Buddha 
met one day in the land of the Immortals, and were lamenting 
the fact that in those degenerate times their excellent doctrines 
did not seem to make any headway in the Central Empire. 
After prolonged discussion, it was agreed that the reason must 
be that while the doctrines themselves are recognised as admi- 
rable, human nature is inadequate to live up to them without 
a constant model. It was accordingly decided that each of 
the founders of these schools of instruction should materiaUse 
himself, go down to earth, and try to find some one who 
could do what it was so necessary to have done. This plan 
v:as at once carried into effect, and in process of time, while 
wandering about the earth, Confucius came on an old man of 
venerable appearance, who, however, did not rise at the ap- 
proach of the sage, but inviting the latter to be seated, en- 
gaged him in a conversation on the doctrines of antiquity and 
the degree to which they were at that time neglected and 
practised. In his discourse the old man showed such pro- 
found acquaintance with the tenets of the ancients, and dis* 
played such vast penetration of judgment, that Confucius was 
greatly dehghted, and after a long interview retired. But 
even when the sage took his leave, the old man did not rise. 
Having found Laotze and Buddha, who had been ahogether 
unsuccessful in their search, Confucius related to them his 
adventure, and recommended that each of them should in 
turn visit the sitting philosopher, and ascertain whether he 
was as well versed in their doctrines as in those of Confucius. 
To his unmixed delight, Laotze found the old man to be 



312 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

almost as familiar with the tenets of Taoism as its founder, 
and a model of eloquence and fervour. Like Confucius, 
Laotze was struck by the fact that although maintaining a 
most respectful attitude, the old man did not rise from his 
place. It was now the turn of Buddha, who met with the 
same surprising and gratifying success. The old man still did 
not rise, but he exhibited an insight into the inner meaning of 
Buddhism such as not had been seen for ages. 

When the three founders of religion met to consult, they 
were unanimously of the opinion that this rare and astonishing 
old man was the very one, not only to recommend each of 
the " three religions," but also to demonstrate that " the three 
religions are really one." Accordingly they all three once 
more presented themselves before the old man in company 
with each other. They explained the object of their previous 
visits, and the lofty hopes which the old man's wisdom had 
excited, that through him all three religions might be revived, 
and at last reduced to practice. The old man, still seated, 
listened respectfully and attentively, and repHed as follows : 
" Venerable sages, your benevolence is high as heaven and 
deep as the seas. Your plan is admirably profound in its 
wisdom. But you have made an imfortunate selection in the 
agent through whom you wish to accomphsh this mighty re- 
form. It is true that I have looked into the books of Reason 
and of the Law, and into the Classics. It is also true that I 
have a partial perception of their sublimity and unity. But 
there is one circumstance of which you have not taken ac- 
count. Perhaps you are not aware of it. It is only from my 
waist upward that I am a man ; below that point I am made 
of stone. My forte is to discuss the duties of men from all the 
various points of view, but I am so unfortunately constituted 
that I can never reduce any of them to practice," Confucius, 
Laotze, and Buddha sighed deeply, and vanished from the 
earth, and since that day no effort has been made to Snd a 



POLYTHEISM, P/tNTHEISM, ATHEISM {^13 

mortal who is able to exhibit in his life the teachings' oftne 
three religions. 

A comparison has often been made between the condition 
of China at the present time, and that of the Roman Empire 
during the first century of our era. That the moral state of 
China now is far higher than that of the Roman Empire then, 
scarcely admits of a rational doubt, but in China, as in Rome,' 
religious faith has reached the point of decay. Of China it 
might be said, as Gibbon remarked of Rome, that to the com- 
mon people all religions are equally true, to the philosopher 
all are equally false, and to the magistrate all are equally use- 
ful. Of the Emperor of China, as of the Roman Emperor, it 
might be affirmed that he is "at once a high-priest, an atheist,; 
and a god " ! To such a state has Confucianism, mixed with 
polytheism and pantheism, brought the Empire. 

It has been well said that there is one thing which is worse 
than pure atheism, and that is entire indifference as to whether 
atheism is true. In China polytheism and atheism are but 
opposite facets of the same die, and are more or less con- 
sciously held for true by multitudes of educated Chinese, and 
with no sense of contradiction. Its absolute indifference to 
the profoundest spiritual truths in the nature of man is the 
most melancholy characteristic of the Chinese mind, its ready 
acceptance of a body without a soul, of a soul without a spirit, 
of a s pirit without a hfe , of a cosmos without a cause, a Uni- 
verse without a God. 




THE REAL CONDITION OF CHINA AND HER PRESENT NEEDS. 

THE Confucian Classics are the chart by which the rulers 
of China have endeavoured to navigate the ship of state. 
It is the best chart ever constructed by man, and perhaps it is 
not too much to say, with the late Dr. Williams, Dr. Legge, 
and others, that its authors may have had in some sense a 
divine guidance. With what success the Chinese have navi- 
gated their craft, into what waters they have sailed, and in 
what direction they are at present steering — these are ques- 
tions of capital importance now that China is coming into 
intimate relations with so many Western states, and seems 
hkely in the future to exert an influence increasingly great. 

It has been said that " there are six indications of the moral 
life of a community, any one of which is significant; when 
they all agree in their testimony they afford an infallible test 
of its true character. These are : (i) the condition of industry ; 
(2) the social habits; (3) the position of woman and the char- 
acter of the family ; (4) the organisation of government and 
the character of the rulers; (5) the state of public education; 
(6) the practical bearing of religious worship on actual Ufe." 

In the discussion of the various characteristics of the Chi- 
nese which have attracted oiu- notice, each of the foregoing 
points has been incidentally illustrated, albeit incompletely and 
without that observance of proportion necessary in a full treat- 
ment of these topics. In a survey of the Chinese character 
the field of view is so extensive that many subjects must be 

314 



THE REAL CONDiriuN OF CHINA 315 

passed by altogether. The characteristics which have been 
selected are intended merely as points through which lines 
may be drawn to aid in outlining the whole. There are many 
additional " characteristics " which ought to be included in a 
full presentation of the Chinese as they are. 

The greater part of the illustrative incidents which have 
been already cited in exemplification of various " character- 
istics" of the Chinese have been mentioned because they 
appeared upon examination to be typical. They are hke 
bones of a skeleton, which must be fitted into their place be- 
fore the whole structure can be seen. It will not do to ignore 
them, unless perhaps it can be shown that they are not bones 
at all, but merely plaster-of-Paris imitations. It may indeed 
be objected that the true place of each separate bone has been 
mistaken, and that others which are important modifiers of 
the total result have not been adjusted to their proper places. 
This criticism, which is a perfectly just one, we not only admit 
but expressly affirm, declaring that it is not possible to gain a 
complete idea of the Chinese from selected " characteristics," 
any more than it is possible to gain a correct idea of a human 
countenance from descriptive essays on its eyes, its nose, or its 
chin. But at the same time we must remind the reader that 
the judgments expressed have not been hastily formed, that 
they are based upon a mass of observations far in excess of 
what has been referred to, and that in many cases the opin- 
ions might have been made indefinitely stronger, and still 
have been fully warranted by the facts. These facts are as 
patent to one who comes within their range as a North China 
dust-storm, which fills the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the hair, 
and the clothing with an almost impalpable powder, often 
surcharging the atmosphere with electricity, and sometimes 
rendering lamps necessary at noonday. One may be very 
wrong in his theory of the causes of this phenomenon, but 
altogether right in his description of it. But there is this im- 



ly CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

portant differerice between the observation of physical and of 
moral phenomena : the former force themselves on the atten- 
tion of every human being, while the latter are perceived only 
by those whose opportunities are favourable, and whose facul- 
ties are directed towards the things that are to be seen. 

(The truth is that the phenomena of Chinese Kfe are of a 
contradictory character, and whoever looks upon one face of 
the shield, ignoring the other, will infallibly judge erroneously, 
and yet will never come to a perception of the fact that he is 
wrong. The union of two apparently irreconcilable views in 
one concept is not an easy task, but it is often a very neces- 
sary one, and nowhere is it more necessary than in China, 
where it is so difficult to see even one side completely, not to 
speak of both. 

Of the lofty moral quality of Confucianism we have already 
spoken. That it produces many individuals possessing a high 
moral character we are prepared to believe. That is what 
ought to be expected from so excellent a system of morals. 
But does it produce such characters on any considerable scale, 
and with any approach to uniformity? The real character of 
any human being can be discovered by answering three ques- 
tions : What is his relation to himself ? What is his relation 
to his fellow-men ? What is his relation to the object of his 
worship ? Through these three fixed points the circle defining 
his true position may be drawn. Those who may have fol- 
lowed us thus far know already what replies we find in the 
Chinese of to-day to these test questions. His relations both 
to himself and to others are marked by an absence of sincer- 
ity, and his relations to others by an absence of altruism ; his 
I relations to the objects of his worship are those of a polythe- 
(ist, a pantheist, and an agnostic. 
C What the Chinese lack is not intellectual ability. It is not 
< patience, practicality, nor cheerfulness, for in all these quali- 
(.. ties they greatly excel. What they do lack is Character and 



THE REAL CONDITION OF CHINA /S^X-^ 

Conscience. Some Chinese officials cannot be tempted by"^ 
any bribe, and refuse to commit a wrong that will never be( 
found out, because " Heaven knows, earth knows, you know,/ 
and I know." But how many Chinese could be found who' 
would resist the pressure brought upon them to recommend 
for employment a relative who was known to be incompetent ? 
Imagine for a moment the domestic consequences of such resist- 
ance, and is it strange that any Chinese should dread to face 
them ? But what Chinese would ever think of carrying theo- 
retical morals into such a region as that ? When it is seen 
what a part parasitism and nepotism play in the administration 
of China, civil, military, and commercial, is it any wonder that 
Chinese gate-keepers and constables are not to be depended 
upon for the honest performance of their duties ? 

He who wishes to learn the truth about the moral condition 
of the Chinese can do so by the aid of the Chinese themselves, 
who, however ready to cover their own shortcomings and 
those of their friends, are often singularly frank in confessing 
the weak points in the national character. Some of these 
descriptions of the Chinese by other Chinese have often served 
to us as reminders of a conversation upon which Carlyle 
dwells with evident enjoyment, in one of the volumes of his 
" Life of Frederick the Great." That monarch had a school- 
inspector, of whom he was rather fond, and with whom he 
liked to talk a little. " Well, M. Sulzer, how do your schools 
get on ? " asked the King one day. "How goes our educa- 
tion business ? " " Surely, not ill, your Majesty, and much 
better in late years," answered Sulzer. " In late years, why? " 
" Well, your Majesty, in former times, the notion being that 
mankind were naturally inclined to evil, a system of severity 
prevailed in schools ; but now, when we recognise that the in- 
born inclination of men is rather to good than to evil, school- 
masters have adopted a more generous procedure." " Incli- 
nation rather to good ! " said Frederick, shaking his old head, 




CHINESE CH/iRACTERISTlCS 

with a sad smile, " Alas, dear Sulzer, I see you don't know 
that damned race of creatures." {Er kennt nicht diese ver- 
dammte Race.) 

Chinese society resembles some of the scenery in China. 
At a httle distance it appears fair and attractive. Upon a 
nearer approach, however, there is invariably much that is 
shabby and repulsive, and the air is full of odours which are 
not fragrant. No photograph does justice to Chinese scenery, 
for though photography has been described as "justice with- 
out mercy," this is not true of Chinese photography, in which 
the dirt and the smells are omitted. 

There is no country in the world where the symbol denoting 
happiness is so constantly before the eye as in China. But it 
I requires no long experience to discover that it is a true obser- 
\ vation that Chinese happiness is all on the outside. We beUeve 
I it to be a criticism substantially just that there are no homes 
lin Asia. 

In contemplating the theory of Chinese society, and the 
way in which that theory is reduced to fact, we are often re- 
minded of those stone tablets to be seen at the spot where the 
principal highways cross streams. The object of these tablets 
is to preserve in "everlasting remembrance" the names of 
those by whom the bridges were erected and repaired. Some- 
times there are half a dozen such stones in immediate prox- 
imity, in various stages of decay. We are much interested in 
these memorials of former djmasties and of ages long gone 
by, and inquire for the bridge the building of which they 
commemorate. " Oh, that," we are told, " disappeared gener- 
ations ago — ^no one knows when!" 

A few years ago the writer was travelling on the Grand 
Canal, when a head-wind prevented further progress. Stroll- 
ing along the bank, we found the peasants busily engaged in 
planting their fields. It was May, and the appearance of the 
country was one of great beauty. Any traveller might have 




s 



o 



u 



THE REAL CONDITION OF CHINA 319 

admired the minute and untiring industry which cultivated 
such wide areas as if they were gardens. But a short conver- 
sation with these same peasants brought to hght th» fact that 
the winter had been to them a time of bitter severity. Floods 
and drought having in the previous year destroyed the crops, 
in every village around people had starved to death — nay, 
were at that moment starving. The magistrates had given a 
little reHef, but it was inadequate, sporadic, and subject to 
shameful peculations, against which the poor people had no 
protection and for which there was no redress. Yet nothing 
of all this appeared uf)on the surface. Elsewhere the year had 
been a prosperous one, the harvests abundant and the people 
content. No memorial in the Peking Gazette, no news item 
in the foreign journals published in China, had taken account 
of the facts. But ignorance of these facts on the part of 
others certainly had no tendency to alter the facts themselves. 
The people of the district continued to starve, whether other 
people knew it or not. Even the flat denial of the facts would 
not prove an adequate measure of relief. A priori reason- 
ing as to what the Chinese ought to be is one thing ; careful 
observation of what they actually are is quite another. 

That many of the evils in Chinese society the existence of 
which we have pointed out are also to be found in Western 
"nominally Christian lands," we are perfectly aware. Per- 
haps the reader may have been disappointed not to find a 
more definite recognition of this fact, and some systematic 
attempt at comparison and contrast. Such a procedure was 
in contemplation, but it had to be given up. The writer's 
acquaintance with any Western country except his own is of 
an altogether too limited and inadequate character to justify 
the undertaking, which must for other reasons have failed. 
Let each reader make his own running comparisons as he 
proceeds, freeing himself as far as he may be able from " the 
bias of patriotism," and always giving the Chinese the benefit 



CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

of the doubt. After such a comparison shall have been made, 
the very lowest result which we should expect would be the 
ascertained fact that the face of every Western land is towards 
the dawning morning of the future, while the face of China 
* is always and everywhere towards the darkness of the remote 
past. A most pregnant fact, if it is a fact, and one which we 
beg the reader to ponder well; for how came it about? 

The needs of China, let us repeat, are few. They are only 
Character and Conscience. Nay, they are but one, for Con- 
science is Character. It was said of a famous maker of pianos 
that he was " like his own instruments — square, upright, and 
grand." Does one ever meet any such characters in China? 

At the close of the biography of one of the literary men of 
England, who died but a few years ago, occurs the following 
passage, written by his wife : " The outside world must judge 
him as an author, a preacher, a member of society ; but they 
only who Uved with him in the intimacy of everyday life at 
home can tell what he was as a man. Over the real romance 
of his life, and over the tenderest, loveliest passages in his 
private letters, a veil must be thrown ; but it will not be lifting 
it too far to say, that if in the highest, closest of earthly rela- 
tionships, a love that never failed — ^pure, passionate, for six- 
and-thirty years — a love which never stooped from its own 
lofty level to a hasty word, an impatient gesture, or a selfish 
act, in sickness or in health, in sunshine or in storm, by day 
or by night, could prove that the age of chivalry has not 
passed away forever, Charles Kingsley fulfilled the ideal of a 
' most true and perfect knight to the one woman blest with 
that love in time and to eternity." 

The fairest fruit of Christian civilisation is in the beautiful 
lives which it produces. They are not rare. Hundreds of 
records of such lives have been produced within the present 
generation, and there are thousands upon thousands of such 
lives of which no public record ever appears. Every reader 



THE REAL CONDITION OF CHINA 321 

must have known of at least one such life of single-hearted 
devotion to the good of others, and some have been privileged 
to know many such, within the range of their own experience. 
How are these lives to be accounted for, and whence do they 
draw their inspiration ? We have no wish to be unduly scep- 
tical, but after repeated and prolonged consideration of the 
subject, it is our deliberate conviction that if the forces which 
make the lives of the Chinese what they axe were to produce 
one such character as Mrs. Kingsley represents her husband 
to have been, that would be a moral miracle greater than any 
or all that are recorded in the books of Taoist fables. No 
human institution can escape from the law, inexorable because 
divine : " By their fruits ye shall know them." The forces of 
Confucianism have had an abundant time in which to work 
out their ultimate results. We beheve that they have long 
since done all that they are capable of doing, and that from 
them there is no fiurther fruit to be expected. They have 
achieved all that man alone can do, and more than he has 
done in any other land, under any other conditions. And 
after a patient survey of all that China has to offer, the most 
friendly critic is compelled, reluctantly and sadly, to coincide 
in the verdict, " The answer to Confucianism is China." 

Three mutually inconsistent theories are held in regard to 
reform in China. First, that it is unnecessary. This is no 
doubt the view of some of the Chinese themselves, though by 
no means of all Chinese. It is also the opinion adopted by 
certain foreigners, who look at China and the Chinese through 
the mirage of distance. Second, that reform is impossible. 
This pessimistic conclusion is arrived at by many who have 
had too much occasion to know the tremendous obstacles 
which any permanent and real reform must encounter, before 
it can even be tried. To such persons, the thorough reforma- 
tion of so vast a body as the Chinese people appears to be a 
task as hopeless as the galvanising into life of an Egyptian 



^3 a CHINESE CH/IRACTERISTICS 

mummy. To us, the second of these views appears only less 
unreasonable than the first ; but if what has been already said 
fails to make this evident, nothing that could here be added 
would be sufficient to do so. 

To those who are agreed that reform in China is both 
necessary and possible, the question by what agency that re- 
form is to be brought about is an important one, and it is not 
surprising that there are several different and inharmonious 
replies. 

At the very outset, we have to face the inquiry, Can China 
be reformed from within herself? That she can be thus re- 
formed is taken for granted by those of her statesmen who 
are able to perceive the vital need of reformation. An in- 
stance of this assumption occurred in a recent memorial in the 
Peking Gazette, in which the writer complained of the inhab- 
itants of one of the central provinces as turbulent, and stated 
that a certain number of competent persons had been ap- 
pointed to go through the province, to explain to the peo- 
ple the maxims of the Sacred Edicts of K'ang Hsi, by which 
vigorous measure it was apparently expected that the char- 
acter of the 'population would in time be ameliorated. This 
explanation of moral maxims to the people (originally an imi- 
tation of Christian preaching) is a favourite prescription for the 
amendment of the morals of the time, in spite of the barren- 
ness of results. When it fails, as it always does, there is noth- 
ing to be done but to try it over again. That it must fail, is 
shown by the longest experience, with every modification of 
circumstances except in the results, which are as nearly as 
possible uniformly nil. This has been sufficiently shown ? 
already in the instructive allegory of the eloquent old man t 
whose limbs were stone. 

But if mere precept is inert, it might be expected that 
example would be more efficient. This topic has also been 
previously discussed, and we need recur to it only to point 



THE REAL CONDITION OF CHINA 323 

out the reason why in the end the best examples always fail 
to produce the intended results. It is because they have no 
power to propagate the impulse which gave them hfe. Take, 
for instance, the case of Chang Chih-tung, formerly Governor 
of Shansi, where he is reported to have made the most vigor- 
ous efforts to put a stop to the practice of opium-smoking 
among the officials, and opium-raising among the people. 
How many of his subordinates would honestly co-operate in 
this effort, and what could possibly be effected without such 
co-operation ? Every foreigner is compelled to recognise his 
own comparative helplessness in Chinese matters when the 
intermediaries through whom alone he can act are not in sym- 
pathy with his plans for reform. But if a foreigner is com- 
paratively helpless, a Chinese, no matter what his rank, is not 
less so. The utmost that can be expected is that when his 
purpose is seen to be inflexibly fixed, the incorruptible official 
will carry everything before him (so far as external appear, 
ances go), as a cat clears an attic of rats, while the cat is there. 
But the moment the official is removed, almost before he has 
fairly gone, the rats are back at their work, and everything 
; goes on as before. 

I That a Chinese statesman should cherish hopes of person- 

• ally reforming his country is not only creditable to him, but 

\ perfectly natiu'al, for he is cognisant of no other way than the 

one which we have described. An intelligent British official, 

who knows " the terrible vis inertice of Oriental apathy and 

fatalism — that dumb stupidity against which Schiller says even 

the gods are powerless " — and who knows what is involved in 

; permanent "reform," would have been able to predict the 

I result with infallible precision. In referring to certain abuses 

'■ in southwest China, connected with the production of copper, 

Mr. Baber remarks : " Before the mines can be adequately 

worked, Yunnan must be peopled, the Lolos must be fairly 

treated, roads must be constructed, the faciUties offered for 



324 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

navigation by the upper Yang-tse must be improved — ^in short, 
China must be civilised. A thousand years would be too short a 
period to allow of such a consummation, unless some force from 
without should accelerate the impulse." * To attempt to reform 
China without " some force from without," is like trying to 
build a ship in the sea ; all the laws of air and water conspire 
to make it impossible. It is a principle of mechanics that a 
force that begins and ends in a machine has no power to 
move it. 

Between Tientsin and Peking there is a bend in the Peiho, 
where the traveller sees half of a ruined temple standing on 
the brink of the bank. The other half has been washed 

* These significant words of the late Mr. Eaber have recently received 
a striking confirmation from a memorial in the Peking Gazette of August, 
1890, from T'ang Chiung, Director of Mines in Yunnan, who makes a 
report in regard to the condition of the works and the output. He states 
that " a great deal of illicit mining is carried on by the people, and the 
officials are afraid of the consequences of asserting their rights despoti- 
cally. A plan has, however, been devised of baying up the copper pri- 
vately mined by the natives at a low price, and thus taking advantage of 
the extra labour by a measure at once profitable and popular. In this 
way the memorialist thinks the mines will work well, and will give no 
excuse for the intrusion of outsiders." The rescript merely orders the 
Board of Revenue to " take note." 

In a postscript memorial the Director informs the Emperor that ten 
thousand catties of copper are bought monthly from the illicit workers of 
the private mines, and that the labourers " are not paid wages, but are 
supplied with oil and rice." In conclusion he " describes the whole state 
of the mines as highly satisfactory." 

It is not every day that an official of the rank of governor officially in- 
forms an Emperor that the laws of his Empire are constantly and deliber- 
ately violated by large numbers of persons with whom the magistrates 
dare not interfere, but whom, on the other hand, they mollify with oil, 
rice, and a sum of money sufficient to induce them to part with their stolen 
copper ; and that in consequence of this defiance of the Emperor and his 
officials, the condition of the Emperor's mines is "highly satisfactory." 
No wonder the Board of Revenue was invited to " take note "1 



THE REAL CONDITION OF CHINA 325 

away. Just below is an elaborate barrier against the water, 
composed of bundles of reeds tied to stakes. Halt of this has 
been carried away by the floods. The gods stand exposed 
to the storms, the land Ues exposed to inundation, the river is 
half silted up, a melancholy type of the condition of the Em- 
pire. There is classical authority for the dictum that "rotten 
wood cannot be carved." It must be wholly cut away, and 
new material grafted upon the old stock. China ran t^i^ yC" ^^- 
reformed from within. 

It is not long since the idea was widely entertained in the 
lands of the West that China was to be regenerated by being 
brought into "the sisterhood of nations." The process by 
which she was introduced into that " sisterhood " was not in- 
deed such as to give rise to any well-founded hopes of national 
regeneration as a consequence. And now that the leading 
nations have had their several representatives at Peking for 
more than thirty years, what beneficial effect has their presence 
had upon the evils from which China suffers ? The melan- 
choly truth is that the international relations of the great 
powers are precisely those in which they appear to the least 
advantage. The Chinese are keen observers ; what have they 
perceived in the conduct of any one of the states of the West 
to lead to the conviction that those states are actuated by 
motives more elevated than those which actuate the Empire 
which they wish to " reform " ? And now that China is her- 
self becoming a " power," she has her hands fully occupied in ' 
playing off one set of foreign interests against another, without 
taking lessons of those who are much more concerned in 
" exploiting " China than in teaching her morals. If China is 
to be reformed, it will not be done by diplomacy. 

There are not wanting those who are firmly persuaded that 
what is needed by China is not merely admission into the 
family of nations, but unrestricted intercourse, free trade, and 
the brotherhood of man. The gospel of commerce is th« 



326 CHINESE CHAR/iCTERISTICS 

I panacea for China's needs ; more ports, more imports, a lower 
1 tariff, and no transit taxes. Perhaps we do not hear so much 
of this now as two or three decades ago, during which time 
the Chinese have penetrated more fully than before into Aus- 
traUa and the United States, with results not always most 
favourable to "unrestricted intercourse" and the "brother- 
hood of man." Have there not also been loud whispers that 
Chinese tea and Chinese straw-braid have been defective in 
some desirable qualities, and has not this lack been partly 
matched by defects in certain articles imported into China 
from the lands of the West? 

As an auxiliary of civiUsation, commerce is invaluable, but 
it is not by itself an instrument of reform. Adam Smith, the 
great apostle of modem political economy, defined man as " a 
trading animal " ; no two dogs, he says, exchange bones. But 
supposing they did so, and supposing that in every great city 
the canine population were to establish a bone exchange, what 
would be the inevitable effect upon the character of the dogs? 
The great trading nations of antiquity were not the best na- 
tions, but the worst. That the same is not true of their mod- 
ern successors is certainly not due to their trade, but to wholly 
different causes. ( It has been well said that commerce, like 
Christianity, is cosmical in its aim ; but commerce, like the 
rainbow, always bends towards the pot of gold. 

It is sufficient to point to the continent of Africa, with its 
rum and its slave traffic, each introduced by trading and by 
Christian nations, and each an unspeakable curse, to show 
that, taken by itself, there is no reformatory influence in com- 
merce. 

There are many friends of China well acquainted with her 
condition, whose prescription is more comprehensive than any 
of those which we have named. In their view, China needs 
Western culture, Western science, and what Mr. Meadows 
called " funded civilisation." The Chinese have been a cul- 



THE RB/IL CONDITION OF CHINA 32? 

tured nation for millenniums. They had already been civilised 
for ages when our ancestors were rooting in the primeval for- 
ests. In China, if anywhere on the globe, that recipe has 
been faithfully tried. There is in culture as such nothing of 
a reformatory nature. Culture is selfish. Its conscious or 
unconscious motto is, " I, rather than you." As we daily per- 
ceive in China, where our boasted culture is scouted, there is 
no scorn like intellectual scorn. If Chinese culture has been 
unable to exert a due restraining influence upon those who 
have been so thoroughly steeped in it, is it probable that this 
result will be attained by a foreign exotic ? 

Of science the Chinese are unquestionably in the greatest 
need. They need every modem science for the development 
of the still latent resources of their mighty Empire. This they 
are themselves beginning clearly to perceive, and will perceive 
still more clearly in the immediate future. But is it certain 
that an acquaintance with science will exert an advantageous 
moral influence over the Empire ? What is the process by 
which this is to take place ? No science lies nearer to our 
modern advancement than chemistry. Would the spread of 
a general knowledge of chemistry in China, therefore, be a 
moral agency for regenerating the people? Would it not 
rather introduce new and unthought-of possibilities of fraud 
and violence throughout every department of life ? Would it 
be quite safe, Chinese character being what it is, to diffuse 
through the Empire, together with an unlimited supply of 
chemicals, an exact formula for the preparation of every 
variety of modern explosives ? 

By " funded civilisation " are meant the material results of 
the vast development of Western progress. It includes the 
manifold marvels resulting from steam and electricity. This, 
we are told, is what China really needs, and it is all that she 
needs. Railways from every city to every other city, steam 
navigation on her inland waters, a complete postal system, 



328 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 

national banks, coined silver, telegraphs and telephones as 
nerves of connection — these are to be the visible signs of the 
new and happy day for China. 

Perhaps this was the half-formed idea of Chang Chih-tung, 
when in his memorial on the subject of railways he aihrmed 
that they will do away with many risks incidental to river 
transport, " such as stealing by the crew." Will the accumu- 
lation, then, of funded civilization diminish moral evils ? Do 
railways ensure honesty in their employes, or even in their 
managers ? Have we not read "A Chapter of Erie," showing 
how that great highway between states was stolen bodily, the 
stockholders helpless, and " nobody to blame " ? And will 
they do these things better in China than it has as yet been 
possible to be sure of having them done in England or in 
America ? Is funded civilisation an original cause by itself, 
or IS it the effect of a long train of complex causes, working 
in slow harmony for great periods of time ? Would the intro- 
duction of the ballot-box into China make the Chinese a 
democratic people, and fit them for republican rule ? No 
more will funded civiKsation produce in the Chinese Empire 
those conditions which accompany it in the West, imless the 
causes which have produced the conditions in the West are 
set in motion to produce the like results in China. Those 
, causes are not material, they are moral. 

How is it that with the object-lessons of Hongkong, of 
Shanghai and other treaty ports before them, the Chinese 
do not introduce " model settlements " into the native cities 
of China ? Because they do not wish for such changes, and 
would not tolerate them if they were introduced. How is it 
that with the object-lesson of an honest administration of the 
Imperial Maritime Customs before their eyes for nearly a third 
of a century, the government does not adopt such methods 
elsewhere ? Because, in the present condition of China, the 
adoption of such methods of taxation of Chinese by Chinese 




THE RE/tL CONDITION OF CHINA 

is an absolute moral impossibility. British character ari(| con- 
science have been more than a thousand years in attaining 
their present development, and they cannot be suddenly taken 
up by the Chinese for their own, and set in operation, like a 
Krupp gun from Essen, mounted and ready to be discharged. 

The forces which have developed character and conscience 
in the Anglo-Saxon race are as definite and as certain facts of 
history as the landing of Julius Caesar in Britain, or the in- 
vasion of William the Conqueror. These forces came with 
Christianity, and they grew with Christianity. In proportion 
as Christianity roots itself in the popular heart these products 
flourish, and not otherwise. 

Listen for a moment to the great advocate of culture, Mat- 
thew Arnold : " Every educated man loves Greece, owes grat- 
itude to Greece. Greece was the lifter-up to the nations of 
the banner of art and science, as Israel was the lifter-up of the 
banner of righteousness. Now the world cannot do without 
art and science. And the lifter-up of the. banner of art and 
science was naturally much occupied with them, and conduct 
was a plain, homely matter. And this brilliant Greece per- 
ished for lack of attention to conduct; for want of conduct, 
steadiness, character. . . . Nay, and the victorious revelation 
now, even now, in this age, when more of beauty and more of 
knowledge are so much needed, and knowledge at any rate 
is so highly esteemed — the revelation which rules the world 
even now is not Greece's revelation, but Judaea's; not the 
pre-eminence of art and science, but the pre-eminence of 
righteousness." 

In order to reform China the springs of character must j 
be reached and purified, conscience must be practically en- | 
throned, and no longer imprisoned in its own palace like the 
long line of Japanese Mikados. It is a truth well stated by 
one of the leading exponents of modem philosophy, that " there 
is no alchemy by which to get golden conduct from leaden > 



33° 



CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS 



instincts." What China needs is righteousness, and in order to 
attain it, it is absolutely necessary that she have a knowledge 
of God and a new conception of man, as well as of the relation 
of man to God. She needs a new hfe in every individual soul, 
in the family, and in society. The manifold needs of China 
we find, then, to be a single imperative need. It will be met 
permanently, completely, only by Christian civilisation. 




GLOSSARY OF TECHNICAL TERMS. 



BO Y, a term used by foreigners in China to denote the head- 
servant, irrespective of his age. 

CA TTY, a Chinese pound, equal by treaty to one and one- 
third pounds avoirdupois. 

COMPRADORE, a steward or agent. 

FENG-SHUI, literally, " wind- water." A complicated sys- 
tem of geomantic superstition, by which the good luck of 
sites and buildings is determined. 

K'ANG, a raised platform of adobe or of bricks, used as a 
bed, and heated by means of Hues. 

K'O TOU, or KOTOW, the act of prostration and striking 
the head on the ground in homage or worship. 

LI, a Chinese measure of length, three or more of which equal 
an English mile. 

SQUEEZE, a forced contribution exacted by those through 
whose hands the money of others passes. 

TAEL, a weight of money equivalent to a sixteenth of a Chi- 
nese pound ; an ounce. 

TAOTAI, an officer of the third rank, who is intendant of a 
circuit. 

YAMEN, the office and residence of a Chinese official. 



>33i 



INDEX. 



Anti-foreign literature in China, 112. 
Arnold, Matthew, quoted on Greece, 329. 

Baber, Mr., quoted on belief in the growth of coal, 260. 
Chinese copper-mining, 324. 
Chinese lack of sympathy, 279. 
Chinese truthfulness, 270. 
length of the Chinese mile, 52. 
reform in China, 323. 
Szuchuan farm-houses, 244. 
treatment of victims of fever, 206. 
Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, 310-312. 

influence of, on the practice of virtue, 186. 
introduction of, into China, 119. 
spares animal life, 136. 
Buddhists and Taoists, number of, in China, 294. 
Burying alive in China, 211-213. 

Callery, M., quoted on Chinese ceremony, 171. 
Cameron, Mr., quoted on Chinese commercial honesty, 279, 280. 
Carlyle's "Frederick the Great" quoted on the goodness of human na- 
ture, 317, 318. 
Chang Chih-Tung, efforts of, to stop opium-smoking, 323. 

memorial of, on railways, 328. 
China and France compared, 146. 

the Roman Empire compared, 313. 
Turkey compared in treatment of women, 245. 
Western lands compared, 105, 142, 143, 236, 282, 319, 320. 
intercourse between, 98, 99. 
golden age of, in the past, 115. 
history of, shows futility of Confucianism, 310. 
reform in, 321 S. 

relation of, to Western lands, 121, 122, 314, 325, 326. 
333 



334 INDEX 

Chinese ability to sleep anywhere, 93, 94. 
adapted to all climates, 146, 147. 
adultery, punishment of, 210, 211. 
almanac predicts the weather, etc., 240, 241. 
ancestral worship a bondage, 184. 

inconsistent with Christianity, iSj. 
without ethical value, 310. 
and ancient Romans alike in ideas of morals, 117. 
and Anglo-Saxons, ability of, to receive a reproof, 80. 
behavior of, in sickness, 95, 96. 

when watched, 94. 
compared in regard for ceremony, 102, 103. 
comparison of, difficult, 14. 
directness of, compared, 65, 66. 
endurance of evils, 96. 
filial piety of, compared, 182. 
ideas of, about neighbors, 229. 

crowding, 134, 135. 
industry of, compared, 33, 44. 
misunderstand one another, 61, 62. 
nerves of, compared, 92. 
obstinacy of, compared, 80. 
patience of, compared, 45, 46. 
patriotism of, compared, 114. 
politeness of, compared, 35, 36. 
race vitality, 146. 

races, rivalry between, 14, 15, 96, 97. 
salutations, 41. 

settlements and taxation compared, 328, 329. 
sociability, 167. 
foreign dress compared, 99, 100, 125-129. 
Jews compared, 154. 

the United States, respect for law, compared, 238, 239. 
weather contrasted, 239, 240. 
animals, when dead, all eaten, 21. 
articles not to be had ready-made, 25, 137, 138. 
atheism of the, 292, 293. 
beggars, gifts to, 191, 192. 

persistence of, 154. 
boys cannot learn out of school, 207. 
running away from home, 203. 
brides, treatment of, 198. 
brothers, relations between, 227, 228. 



INDEX 335 

Chinese census, inexactness of, 57, 232. 
suspicion of, 258. 
ceremonial reverence, 300, 301. 
ceremony, foreign indiiference to, loi, 103. 
relation of, to politeness, 35-37. 
character, contradictory elements in the, 268. 

difficulty of writing upon the, 10. 
characters often wrongly written, 55, 56. 
ch'i, nature and evolution of, 218-224. 

childlessness of women occasion for divorce, etc., 179, 197, 198. 
childrpji a source of domestic strife, 217. 
disobedient, 172, 173. 
passive, 92. 

suspicious by nature, 248, 251. 
taught to be insincere, 273, 274. 
troops of, everywhere, 145. 
cities, filth of, 138, 139. 
civilisation and Western civilisation compared, 143. 

chief inconveniences of, 139. 
clannishness, 250. 
classics contain much insincerity, 267. 

orthodox Chinese reverence for the, 116, 117. 
purity of the, 288. 

quoted on filial piety, 172, 176, 179, 180. 
commercial honesty of the, 279-281. 

life full of suspicion, 254-256. 
compared to the bamboo, 80, 81. 
concubinage, cause of, 179. 
concubines, treatment of, 202. 
cookery, advantage of, 20. 
cooking-kettles thin, 22. 
corpses, extortion in case of removal of, 209. 
credulity and suspicion all-prevalent, 265. 
cruelty, 213-215. 

cue, introduced by the Manchus, 118, 1 19. 
currency, evils of the, 140-142. 
customs, reasons for the fixity of the, 117, 121. 
daughters disregarded, 183. 

married, avenging the wrongs of, 223. 
omitted from the family registers, 199. 
unwelcome, igg. 
-in-law, abuse of, 201, 202, 204. 
regarded as servants, 201. 



336 INDEX 

Chinese daughters-in-law, suicide of, 201, 202. 

visiting their families, 199-201. 
death of a, excites suspicion, 254. 
debts seldom paid when due, 273. 
(ieformed and unfortunate, treatment of the, 196, 197. 
dialects, variations in, 48, 252. 
diet simple and inexpensive, 19, 20. 
disregard of hygiene, 138, 139, 148. 
district-magistrate beating a prisoner, 214. 

duties of a, 230-232. 
distrust of one another, 246-249. 
divinities cheated by their worshippers, 302-304. 

originally human, 290. 
divorce, legal grounds for, 179. 
do not care for exercise, 92, 93. 
dogs, multiplicity of, 136. 
dread of giving offence, 67. 
dress, disadvantages of, 125-129. 
early rising, 32. 
education, defects of, 28. 
emigration, nature of, 146, 147, 165, 166. 
Emperor, responsibility of, to heaven, 234. 
endurance of pain, 94. 
eunuchs, due to suspicion, 257. 
excuses, plausibility of, 7I> 7^, 177' 
families dispersing to beg, 161. 

having property in common, 217. 

suspicion in, 246, 247. 
family life deficient in sympathy, 199-202, 210. 

the unit of social life, 14, 226, 227. 
famine relief, 187, 190. 

inadequacy of, 108, 159, 195, 196. 
farmer, relation of, to the roads, 109-111. 

work of the, 29, 30. 
fatalism, 163, 164. 
feasts protracted, 43. 
feng-shui and railways, 122, 123. 

belief in, leads to suspicion of foreigners, 260. 
fevers, dread of, 206. 

floods, droughts, and famine, frequency of, 96, 159-161. 
fortune-telling, etc., 164, 309. 
furniture clumsy, 131, 132. 
government exemplifies suspicion, 257, 258. 



INDEX 337 

Chinese government, insincerity of the, 283, 384. 
patriarchal, 107. 
permanence of the, 117. 
histories, length of, 44. 

question of the veracity of, a68, 369. 
houses, discomforts of, 130-134. 
ignorance of history and political economy, 165. 
infanticide, 179. 

infants, treatment of, when dead, 205, 206, 
inns, disadvantages of, 135, 137. 
insincerity and Anglo-Saxon impatience, 45, 46. 
institutions, a cause of the perpetuity of, 235. 
Japanese, and Mongol worship compared, 299. 
jugglers, exhibitions of, protracted, 43. 
laborer, cheerfulness of the, 33, 168, 169. 
poverty of the, 194. 
work of the, protracted, 30. 
language exhibits contempt for women, 346. 

ignorance of, on the part of foreigners, too, loi. 
origin of, mysterious, 118. 
vagueness of the, 82-86. 
lawsuits always imminent, 96. 

development of, 224, 22J. 
literary examinations, persistence in, 28; 29, 154. 

, protracted, 43, 44. 

literati, the chief enemies of foreigners, 105. 
literature, excellencies of, 288. 

influence of, upon Chinese history, I16, 117. 
longevity of the, 147, 148. 
love of flowers, 167, 168. 
manufactures, simple machinery for, 35. 
merchants and shops, 31. 
minmg, abuses in, 323, 324. 
modesty, true and false, 278, 279. 
mone^ complications of, 255. 
variations in, 49, 50. 
monotheism, question of, 289. 
mothers and daughters, quarrels of, 199, aoo. 
mourning, 174, 179, 180. 
names, confusion in regard to, 56, 57. 
nature-worship, 290, 291. 
neighbors, mutual responsibility of, 228, 329. 
obstinacy of the, 60, 78, 80. 



338 INDEX 

Chinese officials, graduated responsibility of, 232-234. 
hard- worked, 31, 32. 
have no independent salaries, 235, 236. 
orders of, disregarded, 78, 79. 
opium-smoking, official proclamations against, 323. 
overcrowding the normal condition, 94, 134, 135. 
parricides infrequent, 181. 

proceedings in case of, 229. 
patients in hospitals and dispensaries, bearing pain, 94. 

delay in coming, 87. 
kindness to one another, 

207. 
neglect orders, 76, 77. 
patriotism, nature of, 111-114. 
peaceableness, 225. 
peace-makers, 17, 221, 222, 224. 
people, classification of the, 28. 
polite vocabulary of, 274, 275. 
polygamy, relation of, to filial piety, 1 84. 

sanctioned by Confucianism, 308. 
population, checks on the, 145, 194. 

density of the, 144-146, 152, 153, 194. 
postal service, lack of, 139. 
poverty and ignorance of the, 88, 89. 
prevalence of, 194, 195. 
reduced to a science, 152, 153. 
precedents, importance of, 123, 124. 
presents, offered through politeness, 39. 

reception of, 17, 276, 277. 
provincial clubs, 187. 
punishments, cruelty of, 213, 214. 
quarrels, conduct of, 221, 222. 
race, perpetuity of, due to moral forces, 287. 
rate of interest due to lack of confidence, 255, 256. 
rebellions allowed to gain headway, 243. 
excitement in time of, 212. 
punishment of participants in, 234, 235. 
put down among Mohammedans, 156. 
waste of life in, 144-146. 
reforms prevented by conservatism, etc., 258, 359. 
refugees, gifts to, 192. 
regard for human life, 211, 212, 239. 
relationships complex, 226, 227. 



INDEX 339 

Chinese religions imply conformity, 119. 

intermingled, 294-296, 306, 307, 311, 31a. 
respect for law, 237, 238. 
responsibility, evils of, 234-236. 

excellencies of, 236. 
relation to foreigners, 236, 237. 
reviling, 219-222. 

oblique, 71. 
roads, character of the, 108-1 11, 139, 208. 
scholars, the leading class, 163, 

unpractical, 104. 
school-children, methods of study and recitation, 251. 
secret sects forbidden, 257, 258. 
self -mutilation through filial piety, 178, 239. 
servants difficult to dismiss, 247, 248. 
good qualities of, 168. 
mulishness of, 77, 78. 
sociability, 167. 
social calls, length of, 46, 47. 
society, solidarity of, illustrated, 55, 227, 250, 282. 
squeezes, pervasiveness of, 192. 

theory of, 282. 
streets, obstruction of, 1 10, 1 1 1. 
superstitions, prevalence of, 296, 297. 
suspicion of foreigners, 260-264. 
strangers, 251-253. 
suttee, practice of, 215. 
sympathy, emptiness of, 279. 
temples, regard for, 298-300. 
theatricals protracted, 43. 
tithing system, 231, 232. 
tobacco, drying and curing of, 26. 
travellers, treatment of, 208-210, 250, 251. 
treatment of women shows suspicion, 244-246. 
tribute rice, handling of, 25, 26. 
uniformity and differences among the, 48. 
village constable, functions of, 230. 

importance of, in study of social life, 14. 
the unit of social life, 226. 
villages, population massed in, 244. 
walls exhibit suspicion, 242-244. 
weights and measures, variations in, 49-53. 
widows re-marrying, 204. 



340 INDEX 

Chinese wives, position of, 183, 203, 204. 

wives and children, sale of, 204, 205. 
women, clothing of, economical, 22. 
workmen, dilatoriness of, 44, 45. 
writing-materials, inconvenience of, 136, 137. 
Chu Hsi, influence of, upon China, 293. 
Confucian and Christian theory of family relations, 183. 

theory of influence of rulers on the people, lij. 
Confucianism and Christianity, sacred books viewed alike, 116. 
defects and errors of, 307-310. 
moral quality of, 316. 

to be estimated by its effects, 287-289, 32 1. 
value of, 314. 
Confucius and his night-dress, 129. 
system, 307-312. 
Ju-Pei, 267. 

the truthfulness of his history, 269, 270. 
Buddha, and Laotze, relations between, 296, 311, 313. 
not an originator, 1 1 J. 
quoted on filial piety, 175, 176- 

interest in public affairs, 112. 
period of three years' mourning, 174, 179, 180. 
respecting spiritual beings, 184, 299, 
Cooke, Mr. G. W., quoted on Chinese character, 9. 

cooking, 20. 
lying, 271. 

Davis, Sir John, quoted on Chinese cheerfulness, 33. 
De Quincey, quoted on Chinese obstinacy, 60. 
Dispensaries and hospitals in China, reports of, 149. 
Drowning, neglect of, by the Chinese, 207, 208. 

Elgin, Lord, address of, to Shanghai merchants, quoted, 15. 

Faber, Dr. Ernst, quoted on Confucianism, 307-310. 

Feathers little used by the Chinese, 131. 

Foreign accomplishments, Chinese indifferent to, 103-105. 

dispensaries and hospitals, suspicion towards, 263. 

intercourse with China shows suspicion, 61, 263, 264. 
Foreigners in China treated with indifference, 209. 

Heaven influenced by man, 239. 

worship of, by the Chinese, 291, 293. 



INDEX 341 

Henry, Dr. B. C, quoted on Chinese economy, 23, 24. 
Hill, Rev. David, quoted on Chinese charities, 187. 
Hosie, Mr., quoted on Chinese boat-trackers, 168. 
Hue, M., quoted on a Chinese filial letter, 180, 181. 

Chinese lack of interest in politics, 1 12, 113. 

religion, 306. 

stopping the braying of donkeys, 135. 

treatment of Chinese prisoners, 214. 

K'ang Hsi and the pirates, 155. 

edicts of, explained to the people, 322. 
Kidd, Professor, quoted on Chinese sincerity, 266. 
Kingsley, life of, quoted, 320. 

Legge, Dr. James, quoted on Chinese filial piety, 172. 

Confucianism, 288. 

the truthfulness of Confucius, 269, 270. 
Little, Mr. A., quoted on Chinese boat-trackers, 168, 169. 
length of the Chinese mile, 52. 

Meadows, Mr., quoted on Chinese atheism, 293. 
lack of sympathy, 279. 
literature, 288. 
M. Hue, 306. 

studying a foreign country, Ij. 
Mencius and the king, 267. 

quoted on filial piety, 178. 

the feeling of pity, 186. 

history by Confucius, 269. 
Mohammedan rebellion in Turkestan, 156, 234. 
Money, misunderstandings about, 59, 60. 

Opium, effect of, upon the Chinese race, 145. 

Peking Gautte, difficulty of comprehending the inwardness of the, 72,73. 
memorial in, on bad characters, 322. 
filial piety, 178. 
working copper-mines, 324. 
quoted on abuse of daughters-in-law, 202. 
burning alive in China, 215. 
responsibility of officials, 233, 234. 



34« INDEX 

Rain, antipathy of Chinese to, 139, 140. 

prayers for, 297, 298, ^Oe,. 
Reform in China, nature of, 79, 321 ff. 
Richthofen, Baron, quoted on the Chinese character, 268. 

Sacred edict expounded to produce reformation, 322. 

quoted on filial piety, 174, 177. 
Sickness, behavior in time of, 95, 96, 169, 206, 207. 

of the poor, of women and children, neglected, 203, 205. 
Singer, Dr., quoted on Chinese histories, 268. 
Smallpox, Chinese indifference to, 205, 206. 

Virtue, accounts of, kept, 187, 188. 
acts of, described, 188-191. 
the practice of, 186. 

Wade, Sir Thomas, quoted on Chinese religion, 306. 
Williams, Dr. S. W., quoted on Chinese ceremony, 171, 172. 

the ideal scholar, 288. 
Wool little used by the Chinese, 126. 

Yates, Dr., quoted on Chinese filial piety, 171, 1S4.